Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Latvian-American artist whose work characterised the abstract expressionist course of the mid-century New York art scene.
His large colour field works spoke to his desire for art to be an emotional and religious experience for the viewer. Such is the impact of his works, that even a fake Rothko can carry a scandal that would close Knoedler Gallery, the oldest art gallery in New York.
By the late 20th century, Rothko's artworks were a tempting choice for a forger for a few reasons.
Foremost, Rothko was an established brand name in the art market and in popular culture. His works were regularly going for tens of millions of dollars, with his current auction record established in 2012 with the sale of Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) at Christie’s in New York for USD 86.8 million.
With Rothko’s work making headlines with dizzying auction records, they have become instantly recognisable as abstract expressionist masterpieces, and iconic pieces of mid-century American modernism.
Even if you are not a regular attendee of the Met or MoMA, the large colour-blocked works of Rothko would float to mind as symbolic of Modern art.
And if you are a collector of modern art, your collection would seem slightly hollow if it were not to feature a piece by Rothko.
Rothko’s work is also tempting to a forger because of the artist’s secretive technique. Rothko was able to achieve the beautiful and highly complex melting of colours through many-layered processes that even his assistants were not privy to.
With each piece created with unconventional techniques and materials, forgers can play a bit fast and loose with the rules, with no one to argue the contrary.
Finally, Rothko’s works are easy to love. Who wouldn’t want to be taken in by the beautiful, and dare I say transcendental works? They offer a moment of quiet reflection and encourage repeat contemplation to uncover Rothko’s wisdom.
No wonder so many people were taken in by the Knoedler forgeries!
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