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Princeton University Art Museum Displays Mark Rothko Painting

The Princeton University Art Museum displays Mark Rothko’s Magenta, Black, Green on Orange (No. 3/No. 13) on view now through January 8, 2012.

The loan of Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970) 1949 painting, Magenta, Black, Green on Orange (No. 3/No. 13), from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, brings a rare opportunity to experience a work from the beginning of the artist’s mature period to the Princeton University Art Museum. The painting is a reciprocal loan for Princeton’s Willem de Kooning painting Black Friday (1948), which is included in the artist’s retrospective at MoMA. No. 3/No. 13 will be on view in Princeton through Sunday, January 8, 2012.

Mark Rothko, American, 1903-1970: Magenta, Black, Green on Orange (No. 3/No. 13), 1949. Oil on canvas, 216.5 x 164.8 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Bequest of Mrs. Mark Rothko through The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. (428.1981), © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY8.

Rothko belonged to the New York School, a loose group of painters and sculptors active in the 1940s and 1950s. Also known as Abstract Expressionists, Rothko and his colleagues – Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and Lee Krasner, among others – were indelibly shaped by the Great Depression and World War II. Convinced that earlier styles of painting were no longer appropriate in a world of concentration camps and atomic bombs, these artists developed a style of abstraction that eschewed narrative and representation and prioritized expression. Myth, ecstasy and tragedy were recurring themes in the group’s work, as was the sublime, a concept that Rothko in particular sought to translate into paint. Sublimity is pronounced in No. 3/No. 13, in which a sense of boundlessness and spatial plenitude trigger feelings of awe and wonder. “I think of my pictures as dramas,” Rothko wrote in 1947, “the shapes in the pictures are the performers.”

Mark Rothko is recognized as a colorist of extraordinary skill. Works such as No. 3/No. 13 rely in large part on the orchestration of hue – as well as value, contrast, transparency, saturation and luminosity – for their visual impact. Almost all of Rothko’s attention was focused on the surface of his paintings – more specifically, on creating surfaces with considerable expressive power. To this end, the artist exploited not only color but also facture and composition.

“No. 3/No. 13, one of Rothko’s early large-scale artworks, is an important painting made at the height of his career,” said Kelly Baum, the Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Princeton University Art Museum. “It complements paintings by other Abstract Expressionist artists and invites us to see these artists in a different and essential context.” Baum went on to explain:

“No. 3/No. 13 features a compositional format that Rothko developed in 1947 and whose possibilities he continued to mine for the next 23 years. A stack of horizontal bands (rectangular but not rectilinear) stretches outward, flirting with the edges of a vertical canvas. Limning the bottom edge is a whisper of yellow. Its identity is ambiguous: does it lie underneath or on top of the orange? Or is this, perhaps, the top edge of another, partially invisible, band, one that continues, so to speak, beyond the canvas? If the yellow highlight is indeed meant to suggest something we perceive only in part, it violates the sense of enclosure and autonomy that the horizontal bands, contained as they are within the composition’s top, left, and right edges, otherwise respect.

In the case of No. 3/No. 13, therefore, two very different spatial scenarios present themselves: either a closed aesthetic ecosystem or a fragment of a larger environment, one that encompasses the viewer.

“If the latter is true, instead of representing a space or creating the illusion of space, No. 3/No. 13 becomes a space,” Baum concluded.

A special concert, Myths/Multiforms/Minimalism, celebrating the Museum’s exhibition of Mark Rothko’s No. 3/No. 13, will be presented by the Princeton Singers in the Museum, on Saturday, October 15 at 5:30 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, October 16 at 5:30 p.m. The concert explores Rothko’s inspiration from classical mythology and the ways in which his later work presages musical minimalism. The performance includes works by Randall Thompson, William Byrd, Pulitzer Prize-winner Steven Stucky, and Steve Reich, and features Gyorgy Ligeti’s 16-part Lux Aeterna. Tickets are $15, and are available through University Ticketing at (609) 258-9220 or online .

About the Princeton University Art Museum
Founded in 1882, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the nation’s leading art museums. Its collections feature more than 72,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary, and concentrating geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Museum collections are particularly strong in Chinese painting and calligraphy, art of the Ancient Americas, and pictorial photography.

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