Mark Rothko In Hamburg

A landmark retrospective of the "myth-maker".

From 16th May until 24th August, the Kunsthalle Hamburg is showing a retrospective of Mark Rothko. It's been twenty years since the last Rothko exhibition in Germany, and because of the sensitive surfaces of his paintings and difficulties this causes in transportation, there won't be another comparable opportunity to see his work in Europe for a long time.

Mark Rothkowitz came from Daugavpils, Russia (now Latvia) to the United States when he was 10 years old, lived together with Robert Rauschenberg in New York and studied under Arshile Gorki at the New School of Design. His work was influenced by Freud's Interpretation of Dreams and Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. He saw himself as a "myth-maker" and explained his art in a moving statement: "The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom... The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their colour relationships then you miss the point."

He suggested that one should look at his paintings with dimmed light  from a distance of exactly 46 centimeters – then his canvases would unfold their glowing and intense colours. His technique of painting was to apply a thin layer of binder mixed with colour pigment directly onto uncoated and untreated canvas, and paint thinned oils directly onto this overlay, so creating a dense mixture of overlapping colours and shapes; and his brush strokes were light and fast. When he started using dark blues and greens, for many critics this change of colours reflected a growing darkness within his personal life. Rothko committed suicide at the age of 66.

The retrospective also includes paintings by Caspar David Friedrich and Pierre Bonnard, two painters with a strong influence on him. By examining C. D. Friedrich's "Wanderer above the Sea of Fog", we are drawn into the revelation of a space of personal emotion and reflection quite comparable to Rothko's paintings. In Rothko's early "Portrait" from 1939 we already can discover the "Multiforms" that he developed much later: the red wall with a green roof, followed by a square of a blue sky, and above that a part of a window. In his best-known paintings, he arranged three horizontal, coloured rectangles with slightly blurring edges above one another: a trip into pure colour, containing, as he said, a "breath of life". His "White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)" from 1950 was sold for $72.8 million at Sotheby's in New York in May 2007, still the highest ever price for a post-war painting.