Picks and Pans Main: Etc.
Historically refined—in public, anyway—the art world was caught in open scandal when the dealing and double-dealing in Rothko's estate of nearly 800 paintings began revealing itself in 1971. An ensuing legal battle took six years and involved many of the most prestigious and talented names in art, as well as law. Rothko's daughter, Kate, then 26, finally won control of the $32 million worth of paintings that had been held by New York's Marlborough Gallery—which until the ugly litigation had always seemed to be the Tiffany's of its field.
With the settling of the will, it was finally possible to mount Rothko's first major retrospective—and to prove that there was indeed something important to fight about. This selection of some 150 paintings spanning a 45-year career includes early, very mediocre oils rarely seen in public before, with good reason. But the works done after 1947 are fascinating. That is when Rothko embarked on abstract expressionism and the large rectangles and bands of color for which he became famous. (Several of the works are purchasable, but prices run from about $50,000 to $500,000.) By the mid-1960s Rothko's exuberant colors gave way to dark browns and, increasingly, black. It was the signal of his deepening depression. In 1970, at age 66, he committed suicide by slashing the crook of his elbow.
This retrospective, put together by New York's Guggenheim Museum, begins a national tour February 8 in Houston, the site of the Rothko Chapel, a one-room building designed, in part by architect Philip Johnson, to house a collection of 14 Rothko murals. Then the show moves to Minneapolis in April and on to Los Angeles in July.