Mark Rothko. No. 10. 1950. Oil on canvas, 7' 6 3/8" × 57 1/8" (229.6 × 145.1 cm). Gift of Philip Johnson. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • MoMA, Floor 4, 403 The David Geffen Galleries

“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on,” Mark Rothko once said. Like many of his fellow Abstract Expressionist artists, Rothko, in response to unthinkable atrocities—the Holocaust, the vast casualties on the battlefields of World War II, the atomic bomb—believed in the power of abstract art to reassert the highest ideals of humankind.

From the late 1940s until his death in 1970, Rothko tested the limitless possibilities of layering dense fields of colors on large-scale canvases. His paintings invite the viewer to become, in his words, “enveloped within” them. His early palette was rich with vivid reds, yellows, and blues that at times vibrate against each other; later, these colors gave way to somber dark purples and greens and, ultimately, blacks. For Rothko, art was a profound form of communication, one capable of conveying the “scale of human feelings, the human drama,” as he described. Through works like these, he hoped to create the conditions for silence and contemplation.

Organized by Cara Manes, Associate Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, and Danielle Johnson, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.

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