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Columbus Museum of Art to showcase artist Mark Rothko’s defining works in new exhibition

The Decisive Decade 1940-1950,' slated to run at the Columbus Museum of Art Feb. 1-May 26.

Leave it to the paintings of Mark Rothko to force us to re-evaluate what we visually define as human. Perhaps they will be better understood when many of his paintings come to the Columbus Museum of Art on Friday. 

“(Rothko) wanted his work to be about really deep, weighty human issues,” said Dominique Vasseur, director of curatorial administration and curator of European art at the Columbus Museum of Art. “He was terrified that people would merely think of his work as decorative.”

A series of Rothko’s paintings is set to be available for viewing Friday through May 26 as part of a new exhibition hosted at the Columbus Museum of Art. The exhibition, “Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950″ showcases Rothko’s defining works. It will also reflect Rothko’s development as an artist throughout the decade.

The exhibition is organized by the Arkansas Art Center, the Columbia Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum, in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art said Nancy Colvin, marketing and communications manager at the Columbus Museum of Art, in an email. 

This is the first time the Columbus Museum of Art has hosted Rothko’s work, Colvin said, adding that this exhibition will serve as the museum’s “way to share this very important artist’s work with the community.”

Rothko was largely a figurative painter in 1940, but as the decade progressed, he began to “purge his art of the figure for symbols, shapes that appear as organic or living beings without actually being human figures,” Vasseur said. Eventually Rothko’s art in the late 1940s became defined with areas of color, doing away with lines. 

Going into 1950, Rothko “finally distills (his work) to the recognizable canvases that we consider Rothko today, which are large, rectangular shapes of color floating on the surface of the canvas,” Vasseur said. These paintings have become known as the “Color Field” paintings. 

There will be 10 works included in the exhibition from Rothko’s artist friends and colleagues. Similar to Rothko, this generation of artists was trying to create “an art form with a new style of painting that gets rid of the human figure but still has the ability to somehow convey really deep human emotion,” Vasseur said. 

Shannon Reilly, a third-year in history of art, said she is excited about Rothko’s works coming to Columbus. 

“Rothko was very intellectual with his artwork,” Reilly said. “(He) has meaning behind what he puts down (on the canvas).”

Reilly has seen some of Rothko’s works before, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and plans to see the exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art. She said when she saw Rothko’s pieces in person, “it was like watching a drama,” Reilly said. “It’s overwhelming just looking at the piece.”

Vasseur said having the works is an honor. 

“Rothko’s work is highly thought of in the art world,” Vasseur said. “One of the reasons we love being able to bring in an exhibition like this is that it affords the central Ohio community the ability to see this work.”

Students can visit the Columbus Museum of Art for $8 with their BuckID and the Ohio Union offers tickets for free. The museum offers free admission for all visitors on Sundays.

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