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Wednesday 03.12.08

« Man Friends Forever | Main | Performative »

Rothko in Portland

Marcus Rothkowitz, Landscape (View of Portland), ca. 1928 courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

The Portland Art Museum is host to yet another distinguished guest, in fact it's a work painted in Portland by our most famous local artist, Marcus Rothkowitz (aka Mark Rothko). The painting is currently on display in the third floor of the Schnitzer Center for Northwest Art. The ca. 1928 oil painting "Landscape (View of Portland)" was made long before his signature style of the late 40's and depicts the then new Ross Island Bridge from Pill Hill, a moody grey sky and Mt Hood. Overall, it is most strongly influenced by Cezanne. Rothkowitz had his first solo show at the Portland Art Museum in 1933 and went to Lincoln High School (which also boasts Matt Groening & Mel Blanc).

(detail of sky)

Mark Rothko No 203, 1954

Though these early works are less sought after I believe this piece needs to become part of the collection as it's pretty good, shows Portland and most importantly the sky definitely presages the atmospheric strata that later became the hallmark mood inducing effect of his mature style. Any Rothko aficionado who has spent much time in Portland will note how the city's skies bear a remarkable visual resemblance to his mature works. This early painting supports my thesis, besides an aesthetically sensitive person simply could not grow up here and not be influenced by the combination of mazy low hanging clouds and deep sunrise/sunset colors (though Rothko was hardly trying to reference landscape in his mature work the mood of that skyscape is difficult to discount). Rothko left Portland after 1933 because his family failed to see art as valid vocation during the depression and New York simply had more to offer. One can hardly fault Rothko for being ambitious and leaving but Portland has come a long way since then (we now attract more artists from New York, LA and San Francisco than we lose). I think Portland would like him back in some way, art is his legacy...as it should be.

An undoctored example of the kind of sky Portland produces (especially if there are forest fires)

In fact Rothko is someone whom the hoard of young artists in town frequently discuss from Matt McCormick's films to Scott Wayne Indiana's inclusion of him in last year's Portland art scene coloring book (hilarious).

Hopefully, curator Jennifer Gately can come up with a donor and keep the painting here…the first time this work came through under the previous director it was only $75,000, now it is more. Still it's not the money… it's the fact that this is the perfect early Rothko for the collection and should PAM eventually procure a large mature work for the collection it would add to the understanding of one of one of the truly great painters of the 20th Century… who just so happened to grow up here.

Mark Rothko
Untitled, 1970
NGA, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
Copyright © 1997 Christopher Rothko and Kate Rothko Prizel

An idea whose time has come:
In an email Tyler Green had a great idea worth mentioning here. Since Portland lacks a major mature Rothko (we do have a small example) and at the current prices it seems unlikely we will get one we need a loan from a major archive. Tyler's idea: The National Gallery has a large # of Rothkos that they can't possibly hang all the time… how about a revolving loan for the AbEx room? Maybe eventually, when the museum is building again there can be a dedicated Rothko gallery (as he often preffered)? Something like this simply needs to happen.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on March 12, 2008 at 12:08 | Comments (3)


How about a Rothko museum in Portland? Maybe it could be an extension of PAM, in the parking lot site next door to the Mark Building.

Posted by: Brian Libby [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 13, 2008 09:29 AM

Yes, I believe a special Rothko desitination in town would be ideal... In the past Ive gone on record with the idea that the space between the Mark Wing and the Belluschi building at PAM be tied together with some sort of soaring glass atrium (ala Foster's V&A museum). Within that glass enclosure could be a separate black box gallery with low light and low cielings... the kind Rothko preferred. It would have to be part of PAM... unless there is some donor out there with 10-50 Rothko's who wants to put up a single artist museum here.

An NGA & or Rothko Foundation deal with PAM could facilitate something special. I believe Kate Prizel (Rothko's daughter) donated the small mature work in the collection and lent a nice big yellow mature work to PAM when it opened the new wing.

Ive also talked with Sam Adams office about doing something to acknowledge the artist. I dont know the exact Portland addr. where he lived but Its up by Pill Hill... Bruce Guenther might know. I havn't done a full on historical search yet. The Oregon Historical Society might know too, its gotta be in the records somewhere, I just havnt really looked yet. Rothko was active with the Jewish community center here too.

One last bit September 25th 2008 is Rothko's 105th Birthday.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 13, 2008 10:11 AM

A Rothko museum in Portland. Now that would be fantastic.

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 13, 2008 07:00 PM

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