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Mark Rothko

Archaic Idol

Not on view
Ink and gouache on paper
21 7/8 x 30" (55.6 x 76.2 cm.).
The Joan and Lester Avnet Collection
Object number
© 2015 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Drawings and Prints

Rothko exploited diluted washes of watercolor to picture the watery beginnings of life. Here the red and brown strokes that function as amoebalike swimmers in many of his early watercolors have resolved into the archaic idol of the work’s title. Like many Abstract Expressionists, Rothko was interested in primordial origins and creation myths, and he argued for the importance of such imagery and subject matter in a 1943 manifesto he cowrote with painter Adolph Gottlieb. Art, they declared, should be “an adventure into an unknown world” and its subject matter must be “tragic and timeless,” demonstrating a “spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art.”

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011