The Columbia Museum of Art revealed plans for back-to-back major exhibitions Tuesday: “Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950” and “Impressionism from Monet to Matisse.”
The shows have something in common: an emphasis on color.
The news comes just two days after the museum announced a gift of almost 600 works of art from Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, prominent collectors of contemporary art. The Rothko show will be exhibited Sept. 14, 2012-Jan. 6, 2013 and the Impressionism exhibition is Jan. 25-April 23, 2013. The shows follow “Nature and the Grand American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School Painters,” which ended April 1, and “The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design,” which opens later this month and runs through August.
“It’s pretty exciting to have a year like this,” Karen Brosius, the museum’s executive director said.
It will be the first significant exhibition on Rothko, an abstract expressionist painter, in the state. There will be 37 works, including paintings, watercolors and works on paper taken primarily from the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The show, co-organized by the museum along with Arkansas Art Center, the Columbus Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum, in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art, has a pronounced importance. The works illustrate Rothko’s transition from figure painting to the symmetrical and colorful rectangular blocks that he is famous for.
“This is the period when he becomes Rothko,” said Brad Collins, the department chairman of USC’s college of arts and sciences. “The story of that evolution is really a fascinating one.
But it’s rarely told.
The show’s concept was conceived by Todd Herman, the museum’s former chief curator. While the National Gallery wants the earlier Rothko to receive more attention, the staff doesn’t have the time or space to exhibit the works, Collins said. A lot of the art in the show has been seen before, but usually only in relation to the mature work.
“It’s never been looked at closely about what it says about the evolution in his style,” Collins said.
The museum is producing a 170-page, full-color catalogue to accompany the exhibition. The book, edited by Collins, will be published by SkiraRizzoli Publications. It will have essays from Christopher Rothko, Rothko’s son, and essays from three Rothko scholars.
“It’s going to be a lasting influence that the Columbia Museum of Art will have,” Brosius said.
The evolution of Rothko’s work was influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical views.
“Nietzsche thought that Greek tragedy was the most profound art form, and Rothko was trying to achieve similar results,” Collins said. “And it took him 10 years to figure it out.”
Did he succeed?
“In my own estimation,” Collins said, “when Rothko was at his best, he did.”
“Impressionism from Monet to Matisse,” which will have a total of 55 paintings, pastels and watercolors by prominent French painters such as Renoir, Cezanne and Monet, will draw immediate comparisons to “Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales.” The 2009 exhibition broke museum attendance records, but Brosius said there are differences. For one, “Turner to Cezanne,” primarily portrait and landscape art, featured French and British painters. “Monet to Matisse” has French and American painters and the works range from Renoir’s florid water in “The Wave” to Degas’ active “Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe.”
“It shows French art and its influence on American art in a direct way,” Brosius said.