A Rothko just sold at Sotheby's in New York for $72.8 million. Generally abstract expressionism leaves me cold, but a few artists, like Rothko, Kandinsky, Malevich move me deeply. Sure, even Jackson Pollock in the right mood, though it's disconcerting to see colour photographs of his studio floor, covered with drippings from his canvasses, and realize that if you could take it up as it is and mount it on a wall, you'd have another Jackson Pollock masterpiece.
At a low point in his fortunes, and I don't think they ever rose much in his lifetime, Rothko was saying to friends and fellow artists that he'd sell his output from then 'til the day he died for an annual income of $5,000. The sad thing is if anyone had taken him up on his offer it would have been an act of charity, not an investment. It's a damn nuisance, this time-moving-relentlessly-forward business; if we could reverse the flow and take back even a five percent royalty from this sale--in 1952 dollars--you have to think it would make some kind of difference.
It's been speculated that Van Gogh might not have committed suicide if he hadn't been evicted by his landlord in Arles, who'd been prepared to accept paintings for rent, but changed his mind under pressure from neighbours who didn't like this Vincent one bit. I'd say it's likely that man lived long enough to want to kick himself--look at the escalating value of all those colouristic rent checks he'd so foolishly let slip through his fingers. As for his descendants, they must be thinking great-grandpapa was completely out of his tree. The question is: what would any of them make now of a living Van Gogh or Rothko?
C 2007 Martin Heavisides