Rothko — Hartung: Une amitié multiforme
Curated by Thomas Schlesser
June 12 - July 31, 2021
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Perrotin hosts a crucial event, curated by Thomas Schlesser, from June 12 to July 31, 2021. For the first time, a Rothko-Hartung ‘rendez-vous’ will be the focus of a full-fledged exhibition: a brand new subject, one that is essential to understanding part of the art of the twentieth century. Indeed, while Europe and the United States competed to dominate the art scene after World War II, Rothko and Hartung forged a discreet yet friendly—and, above all, very fruitful—bond.

(Photo: Claire Dorn)

As of April 1950, Rothko visited Hartung’s studio in Paris, although he was himself exhibiting work in New York then, where collectors began vying for his oeuvre in the 1930s. Rothko and Hartung shared a lot in common: born, respectively, in the Russian Empire in 1903 and in Germany in 1904, they were both exiled and deeply moved by history. They saw, in abstract painting, a way of ridding themselves of what haunted them and a means of accessing the sublime. They shared common passions: Rembrandt, as well as the music of the 18th century (Hartung idolized Bach, while Rothko venerated Mozart).

What did Rothko encounter in Hartung’s atelier? This exhibition enlightens the viewer on this discovery. Moreover, it conveys the Rothko “lesson”… Because, in addition to expressing esteem for his Franco-German comrade, Rothko dispensed shrewd advice: ‘leave floating surfaces of color, without adding to them graphically.’ Hartung would try this thirteen years later, just after seeing the retrospective dedicated to the American painter in 1962-1963 in Paris. The year 1963 is the decisive moment around which Perrotin will exhibit four paintings by Hartung, face-to-face with N014 Browns over Dark by Mark Rothko, which was painted concurrently, and which the Musée national d’art moderne-Centre Pompidou- has, exceptionally, lent.

The exhibition will also show the photographic portraits that Hartung made of Mark and Mary Alice Rothko during his visit to New York in 1964: rare archival pieces. Among the paintings, there is a unique work from 1982—never before presented. The exhibition will also include a documentary, featuring Christopher Rothko (the artist’s son) and the art historians David Anfam, Pauline Mari and Pierre Wat, who recount alternative genealogies to those we think we know. As early as the 1940s, Clement Greenberg—the inventor of the concept of colorfield painting—himself considered Hartung a model of spontaneity and freedom for painters of his generation.

(Photo: Claire Dorn)
List of artworks

Born in 1904 in Leipzig, Germany
Lived and worked in France
Died in 1989 in Antibes, France

Hans Hartung achieved international recognition as a seminal figure of art informel, which arose in France during World War II. Beyond the apparent spontaneity of his distinctively bold and almost calligraphic gestural abstraction, rationalism equally informed his style, which arose out of an early interest in the relationship between aesthetics and mathematics—particularly the harmony of the golden ratio—but also out of necessity: early in his career, he meticulously squared up his successful abstract sketches in order to reproduce them on larger canvases, which he could not afford to risk losing to improvisation. The Grand International Prize for Painting, which he won at the 1960 Venice Biennale, marked a decisive turn in his practice. Hartung began improvising directly onto canvas and experimenting with new media, namely fast-drying acrylic and vinyl paints, as well as scraping and spraying techniques. The quest for balance between spontaneity and perfection remained at the core of Hartung’s painterly aesthetics until the end of his life, in 1989.

More about the artist