Daugavpils welcomes back Mark Rothko

Latvia isn’t a country that comes to mind when thinking of great post-war art – a parochial yet understandable deduction – but the country is looking to change that. With the recent opening of a new art centre dedicated to the work of Mark Rothko, the north-eastern European nation is hoping to experience the “Bilbao effect”.
According to the AFP, Latvia is confident that the Mark Rothko Art Centre will do for the city of Daugavpils what the Guggenheim Museum did for the Spanishcity, which was something of a flatlining metropolis before 1997.
Mayor of Daugavpils Zanna Kulakova said last month at the opening: “The museum will be both the pearl of our city and the brand of our city and the whole country.”
Rothko, though known as one of the foremost American abstract expressionists to have emerged after the Second World War, was born in the Latvian city when it was known as Dvinsk.
His father Jacob Rothkowitz emigrated fearing that his sons would eventually be recruited into the Imperial Russian Army. Some 43 years after Rothko’s death, the city has finally recognised the importance of its native artistic son.
The opening was attended by two of the late artist’s childen, Kate Rothko Prizel, 62, and Christopher Rothko, 48. The latter told reporters: “This centre, I think, is going to become an important archive, an important resource for Rothko scholars to draw on, and also for Rothko’s public.”
Housed in a restored nineteenth-century Tsarist-era fortress, the new art centre will, in the words of Inna Inna Steinbuka, the head of the European Commission in Latvia, “give a new impetus to the city”.
Six works by the iconic artist have gone on show at the centre – a long-term donation from his family – which will also be used as a space for emerging, local artists to exhibit their work.
The art centre’s curator Farida Zaletilo, 57, has been instrumental in making Rothko’s so-called homecoming a reality. The Financial Times described her as the equivalent of Sam Wanamaker, the actor who tirelessly championed the development of Shakespeare’s Globe.
It all started in the nineties when she was working at the Daugavpils City Museum of Regional Studies. Someone mentioned to her that Rothko had been born here. She didn’t know who he was – it was as if he never existed. In short: Daugavpils never knew who Rothko was.
“She could not even find material [on Rothko] in St Petersburg,” the newspaper reported.
“On Dalí, de Kooning, and Chagall, yes – but not on Rothko. She made a study-visit to the Hague State archives, immersed herself in Rothko, saw an important exhibition of the artist in 2001 at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel – and became an unstoppable advocate of the art centre.”
The effort has not been in vain. The centre is now open and already there is a buzz about the future of Daugavpils. The Rothko effect is waiting to happen.
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