Mark Rothko exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton

On the final weekend of the Mark Rothko exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, I caught the last chance to visit the retrospective of the American artist Mark Rothko. The exhibition brought into Paris, France, 115 paintings by the artist from institutional collections such as the Tate in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., as well as the Rothko family’s private collection. From 2008 to 2009, there was a Rothko exhibition held at The Tate Modern - it was the first significant exhibition of Rothko’s work to be held in the UK for over 20 years. At that time, I visited the exhibition with almost no knowledge about the artist Rothko, his working process, nor a general understanding of what his work is all about. This time, it was different.

I’m not interested in color. It’s light I’m after.

Mark Rothko


Mark Rothko exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris. Image by Von Chua.

Fascinated by what artists, architects, designers and creators can do when there is less to work with, as I read about how Rothko thinks - he was not interested in colour but instead sought light as a medium in his work, is really intriguing. This time, seeing the chronological curation at the Fondation provided glimpses into who the artist Rothko was before he became the Rothko. The exhibition begins on the basement floor, making its way up vertically through the building designed by Frank Gehry. The first exhibition room was laid out in a circular manner, showcasing early works by Rothko around 1935. From early figurative paintings by Rothko to an extremely well-presented chronology of Rothko’s abstract works, one would have noticed Rothko’s preferred colour choices, long before he began his journey into abstract expressionism. Some of Rothko’s earlier works had bright oranges and yellows, reflecting his happier years. Having said that, the painting Movie Palace as shown below demonstrated the artist’s use of a deep red hue in 1935, which some say was Rothko’s colour shift into his state of depression. One can sense that in The Rothko Room.


Movie Palace by Rothko in 1934-1935. Image by Von Chua.

In the corner of that first room sits a self-portrait of Rothko, the curation of the room draws visitors to take a pause in front of his self-portrait, before introducing the artist’s large format artwork in the following rooms. The Rothko paintings as we know today started off with quite different brushstrokes. From 1946, Rothko began to refine his style through a large body of work. The act of repeating, varying the colours, varying the canvas sizes, and varying the paint thickness within each series brought a matured sense and left behind a meaningful body of work. These early classic paintings by Rotkho were beautifully curated to be on full display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Personally, artworks with a presence and often, they are presented large, are the ones that I am most drawn to. Rothko’s work is undoubtedly one that establishes itself at scale. Stumbling upon the Rothko Room at the Tate in London, UK, was a wonderful discovery and an experience that draws me to revisit it whenever I am in the area. The collection in the Rothko Room was actually a donation from Rothko, who presented nine paintings from a series he produced for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. Rothko produced the paintings for the restaurant designed by Philip Johnson but decided to keep the entire series. Today, these paintings sit within a dedicated space in part of the permanent collection that is free to access. Delightfully, it is never crowded, and there is a dedicated seat in the room that you can almost always find space to dwell in. I was pleasantly surprised to see the paintings in the Tate moved into the Fondatione Louis Vuitton for this exhibition. Seeing it in another space and another light, with visitors crowding to see it, is like seeing a familiar friend doing well in another city.


The Rothko Room from the Tate, London. Image by Von Chua.

And I noticed after a little while as he got to know Rothko, in the living room he took out all the other paintings that were there so that there were nothing but Rothko’s. This became typical… and after a while there was nothing but Rothko’s in that living room.

American painter Jack Tworkov


Mark Rothko’s paintings juxtaposed against Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture. Image by Von Chua.

Although not the main focus of this article, it is worth mentioning that The Fondation was designed by architect Frank Gehry under LVMH’s commission. Gehry’s proposal took 3,584 laminated glass panels to realise, each of them unique and bespoke to fit the shapes drawn by the architect.

We wanted to present Paris with an extraordinary space for art and culture, and demonstrate daring and emotion by entrusting Frank Gehry with the construction of an iconic building for the 21st century.

Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH

Upon arrival after walking through the park, one is greeted by the beautiful sounds of the cascading waterfall that appears to prop up this perching ship-look-alike. With or without a pre-purchased ticket, there are queues to enter the main entrance of the Fondation. The temporary white tent added for security checks is clear that queues of this length were not expected during the design of the building. The bonus of waiting in line to enter the building is the chance to look up, stare and ponder how the facade of the building was put together.

I leave fulfilled seeing a favourite artist’s masterpieces under Gehry’s architecture. The Mark Rothko exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton ended 2nd April 2024.