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Mark Rothko: Seagram Murals

December 6, 2011 – July 22, 2012
East Building Concourse

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Mural sketch), 1959, oil and mixed media on canvas, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. Copyright © 1997 Christopher Rothko and Kate Rothko Prizel, 1986.43.156

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: In June 1958, Mark Rothko accepted a commission to decorate a dining room in the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in Manhattan, a new modernist skyscraper by Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe. Departing from his wonted format of floating rectangles in glowing colors, Rothko produced wine-dark paintings with ambiguous portal shapes evoking what he called a "closed space." From the fall of 1958 into 1959 he was completely absorbed, making more than thirty even though the room only offered places for seven. At the same time, he became increasingly doubtful that a luxury restaurant with its wealthy patrons was the appropriate venue for his art. He withdrew, canceling what would have been his first painted environment—a "place," as he ambitiously said, rather than just a group of paintings. He did, however, complete commissions for a room at Harvard University and a chapel in Houston before his death in 1970.

In 1985 and 1986, the National Gallery of Art received a vast gift of works from the Mark Rothko Foundation, including several paintings deriving from the so-called Seagram Mural project. The installation of three of these in the Concourse galleries of the East Building is timed to coincide with the presentation of John Logan's play Red at Arena Stage (January 20 to March 4), which dramatizes Rothko's struggle with the commission.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art.

Education Resource: Art since 1950

Investigating Rothko's Technique
Video, Released: April 16, 2019, (2:47 minutes)
In the Tower: Mark Rothko
Video, Released: May 4, 2010, (8:30 minutes)