Rothko @ Fondation Louis Vuitton

While there were 512 Autoglyphsi ever created, there were only about about 600 “classic” style Rothkos. And while all 512 can be viewed at the click of a mouse button,ii aggregating even 115 Rothkos at Bernard Arnualt‘s Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris isn’t nearly so simple, taking years of negotiations and untold millions in insurance fees alone. Thankfully, while enjoying our 10th wedding anniversary in La Ville des Amoureux, The Girl and I were in the right place at the right time to catch this potentially once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.

Nestled into the Bois de Boulogne – formerly the King’s hunting grounds and now a sort of “Central Park” in the land-locked French Capital – the Frank Gehry-designed gallery space, with its hajjes of tourists making pilgrimage, winds upwards floor after floor in a curvaceously twin-peaked form disguised by massive steel and glulam-structured wind sails of sloped and curved translucent glass. From its broad base to its slender tips, the dimly lit galleries shrouded within emerge towards a sparkling rooftop viewing area that glisten at sunset with colour palettes very much in contrast with the muted (but hardly lifeless) paintings underneath.iii

The present exhibition “Mark Rothko: 1903-1970” is exceptional, charting the course of the singular painter’s career from his birth in Tsarist Russia in 1903, to his family’s escape to the Land of the Free in 1913, to his struggles at Yale in the 1920s with figurative and landscape painting, and to his eventual evolution towards abstraction in New York, engaged with the intellectual and cultural milieu that was post-WWII era America, what with its last gasps of WASP-powered cultural coherence.

Crescendoing and expanding most broadly with Rothko’s iconic “classic” style of work (as your humble author previously meditated upon at LA MOCA in 2019), the artist completed his works in this style almost exclusively during the final two decades of his life.iv Much of this style of work was commissioned by the likes of Phillip Johnson for the Seagram Building in New York and UNESCO for their Paris headquarters – only for the artist to complete the work and sharply rescind the commission on moral, ie. “anti-elitist,” grounds.

But is such a “anti-elitist” framing too sanitised an explanation given the rebellious nature of this formerly Communist-sympathising (and inherently Jewish) artist? I mean really, what would aesthetically appeal to Mark Rothko about seeing his life’s work be twisted and leveraged by WASP-CIA-Rockefeller cabals towards their furtively power-mad ends?v

To be sure, it doesn’t take all that much imagination to see that Rothko would’ve been positively repulsed by homo-erotic-Hitlerites like P. Johnson or antisemitic-backed institutions like UNESCOvi and that openly snubbing such powerful people in such powerful places is a sure way to get “suicided”… and sure enough Rothko “did” exactly “that.”vii Of course, having a moral backbone is no free lunch! Freedom isn’t free and all that… something Rothko seemed to understand only too well; as all great men, no matter the modesty of their circumstances, understand in turn. (Not that the prophetic artistic class should be confused with the noble warrior class, even if the latter always and everywhere leverages the former to establish its authority and communicate its intentions to the lay public. Especially once victorious, but frequently en route as well.)

So it is that we see this eternal drama unfold on Rothko’s canvases, replete with all-too-human struggles at the misunderstood interstice between darkness and light. Tragic emotionality indeed… the tension of which was informed by in the artist’s keen interest in ancient mythologies, his early childhood Talmudic studies, his engagement with Surrealist and Dadaist expressions, and more generally with the battle-scared artistic movements of his day.viii

Given the wounds of war, the spiritual and even healing powers of these paintings is therefore not to be underestimated: or do you think it’s a coincidence that The Girl’s previously-airplane-kinked neck automajikally healed itself after just a couple of hours amidst the larger-than-life colour fields? Nor should we underestimate Rothko’s traditional Jewish background in creating such soul-nourishing sublimity vis-à-vis abstraction,ix particularly in the context of Exodus 20:4-5, which puts the painter perfectly in line with a multi-millenia-old practice of expressing eternity through non-graven images.x So yes, Rothko (re-)discovered the revelation of unveiling light, as all Creation must fundamentally derive its essence from, since Genesis! Tzimtzum and all that…

But our history continues. And power is as power does, and of course outright decadence is very much en vogue amidst the sinking ship of industrial society, what with its grasping, largely LARPing “power brokers” tripping over one another to sell another widget to those richer in time and money than imagination. So it is that the relatively “carte blanche” abstractions of “Jewish” art (amidst such “Jewish” architecture no less) is still leveraged to project the prestige of the new era Conquerors of Consumption. That “our” art and architecture is also so symbolic of the onceproductive American Empire should give us all pause as to the amount of “progress” in the world at present; material, cultural, or otherwise.

So at least we can look forward to the day when Autoglyphs are asked to play a key role in future generations of geopolitical chess by the world’s post-hurricane remnants. No matter how many centuries from now that may be…xi

“Mark Rothko: 1903-1970” is on now at Fondation Louis Vuitton until April 2nd, 2024.

  1. A “full set” of which recently sold for 5`000 ETH, which was “only” $14.5 mn when the sale happened like 3 weeks ago, but which is already $19.5 mn in today’s bucks. Such a high watermark in ETH terms is unlikely to ever be topped anymore than MPEx-listed Satoshi Dice’s sale in 2013 for 126`315 BTC will ever be topped, at least for a small-ish gambling website, but playing denominator games like that will just scramble your brains with the benefit of a decade-plus’s hindsight. HODL indeed! Or at least USD denominate…
  2. Even our family’s sprawling studio can barely squeeze in our two ‘Glyphs. They take up a lot of space!

  3. Compare the very old-world 20 years of effort that Rothko put into a single style with Matt & John’s 2ish years into their block-bursting abstractions… but life comes at you fast in the digital age! Or does it? We’re certainly told as much by bald talking heads on TV… “AI is going to change everything so don’t even bother to imagine the future hurr!!” and “This hot new memecoin is going TO THE MOON don’t miss it durr!!!” etc etc. Meanwhile our children are drugged, our minds are consumerised, our independence is undermined, our borders are porositised, our economies are lotterised, and we’re pitted against each other like crabs in a bucket. Having failed Bible study class, most of us have even lost the eternal imperative to reach towards the Heavens in search of meaning and purpose. Y’see we really do live in a Dark Age masquerading as a Gilded Age… he wrote from the Cheval Blanc in Paris, realising too late that Mister Todd’s recommendation had ruined him… so ya, what’s the rush?

  4. At this point the CIA <-> AbEx connection is the most poorly kept secret in mid-century art, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock:

    “Why did the CIA support [Rothko and American Abstract Expressionism]? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.”

    The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.

    The Congress for Cultural Freedom also gave the CIA the ideal front to promote its covert interest in Abstract Expressionism. It would be the official sponsor of touring exhibitions; its magazines would provide useful platforms for critics favourable to the new American painting; and no one, the artists included, would be any the wiser.

    via The Independent UK (archived

  5. To say nothing of other UN agencies like the disgusting martyr-machine UNRWA.
  6. It’s worth emphasising – especially to the UPA-y, peace-nik-y, crypto-libertarian types in the back – just how ABSOLUTELY FUCKING ESSENTIAL to anything calling itself “culture” is a network of spies and assassins, particularly in the modern age where war is abundant at the crumbling spokes of the periphery but there are still plenty of obstacles to domestic imperial “greatness” that benefit aplenty from “a straight shot.” What I’m trying to say is that if CIA/Mossad/etc don’t have a dossier on you yet, you’re still an NPC, plain and simple. But let that not be a critique of you, but rather a challenge to you. Je vous donnes un défi, mkay?
  7. Rothko’s experimentation with various colour pigments and extensive use of VOC-laden turpentines to craft his unique tools of the trade were, in a more modern context, the equivalent of Deafbeef’s C+ creations: base-level compositions and recompositions that challenge imitators, not to mention conservators.
  8. Abstraction is really just the perfect platform for power innit?
  9. Exodus 20:4-5

    4. לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה-לְּךָ פֶסֶל, וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה, אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל, וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתַּחַת, וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ.

    לֹא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם, וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם: כִּי אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֵל קַנָּא, פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים, לְשֹׂנְאָי.

    “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

    You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,”

  10. Not that I think we need to worry too too much about the current crop of Rockefeller-funded efforts. If their insanely bland “Futures Conferences” are any indication, they seem to be lost in the same deindustrialising word-soup traps as the rest of the navel-gazing lib “elites” at present. Because yes, succession planning is very, very, very hard over any serious length of time!

    If there’s any antidote to fringe theories of shadowy cabals pulling the strings of the world and making the rest of us dance for their amusement, it’s this humbling fact of human nature and the inherent fragility of our social technologies. Or at least this dramatically reduces the probability of the same cabals persisting over any serious length time…

2 thoughts on “Rothko @ Fondation Louis Vuitton

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