At a time when museums and institutions around the world are actively seeking to diversify their collections, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has announced plans to sell a major work by Mark Rothko to “address art historical gaps” like works by female artists and artists of color.
Rothko’s “Untitled” (1960), has been in the museum’s collection since Peggy Guggenheim donated another work by the artist, “Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea”, in 1946, but the museum asked to later swap it for a more contemporary example of the artist’s work, receiving “Untitled” in exchange. Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea now resides in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The deep burgundy oil on canvas, a major color field painting by the artist, is expected to bring $35-50 million at Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art Evening Auction. The proceeds will also be allocated to create a new fund for future acquisitions. It is planned to travel to London, Taipei, and Hong Kong, before returning to New York for exhibition and eventual auction in May.
Neal Benezra, the director of SFMOMA, said: “With a spirit of experimentation, diversity of thought, and openness to new ways of telling stories, we are rethinking our exhibitions, collections, and education programs to enhance accessibility and expand our commitment to a global perspective, while sustaining our dedication to Bay Area and California art. Untitled, 1960 is being sold in order to broadly diversify SFMOMA’s collection, enhance its contemporary holdings and address art historical gaps in order to continue to push boundaries and embrace fresh ideas.”
With a total acquisition budget of $3 million, Mr. Benezra added, the museum heavily relies on donations and cannot effectively compete in the hyper inflated art market.
The piece has not been exhibited at the museum since 2002 or even lent since 2008, but Rothko’s monumental “No. 14”, of that same year, has been on permanent display. It is considered by many to embody Rothko’s creative crescendo and the full scope of his practice. Committed to exploring the power in art to elicit strong emotional reactions, Rothko moved on from bright colors of the 50’s and favored more romantic and spiritual deep reds and burgundies in the 60’s. The scale of the painting, almost proportional to a human body, creates a powerful and emotional viewing that immerses the viewer in the painting.