Mark Rothko. No. 5/No. 22. 1950 (dated on reverse 1949). Oil on canvas, 9' 9" × 8' 11 1/8" (297 × 272 cm). Gift of the artist. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • MoMA, Floor 4, 404 The David Geffen Galleries

In response to unthinkable atrocities—the Holocaust, vast casualties on the battlefields of World War II, the atomic bomb—many artists felt a grave responsibility to make art that reasserted the highest ideals of humankind. For painters Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, this meant rejecting the easel-sized canvas to work at a larger scale, the size of the works reflecting their grand ambitions. Newman said, “I hope that my own painting has the impact of giving someone as it did me the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality, and at the same time his connection to others.” Louise Nevelson’s work is connected to place: she drew materials from New York’s streets and assembled them into totemic structures of varying scale that she painted in monochrome palettes of black, white, or gold. For all these artists, color was an essential expressive tool, capable of evoking a range of responses.

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