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A Blockbuster Show of Color: Mark Rothko at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris

A Blockbuster Show of Color: Mark Rothko at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris

Welcome to The Director’s Cut, an interactive column featuring fashion, beauty and career advice from RGNN Director and Founder, @isabelevabohrer.

Travel to Paris, take a stroll on the Champs Elysées and you’ll notice the new boy in town. Louis. That is, Louis Vuitton, in the form of a giant monogram trunk in wood and aluminum, covering up a construction site. What’s inside? The brand’s first hotel, opening in 2026. Granted, Louis Vuitton is not really new, -it’s a time-old Maison from 1854 and there’s the Résidence Ephémère, an ephemeral home to Creative Director Pharrell Williams’ creations just a few numbers down the street,- but that so boldy disguised trunk has somehow taken over France’s most important avenue, just like that.

The mammoth LV trunk that has taken over the Champs Elysées; it will be housing the brand’s first luxury hotel | Video credit:
Louis Vuitton’s Résidence Ephémère, an ephemeral home to Creative Director Pharrell William’s creations, on the Champse Elysées | Photo credit:

And yet, the real takeover, the real blockbuster shows, are happening at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. In an iconic Frank Gehry building next to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, the eminent park on the west of Paris, the Fondation is set out to promote art nationally and internationally. With six satellite spaces across the world, including Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing, Seoul, Venice and Munich, the Fondation has made a name for itself on the global art circuit, its centerpiece being the Parisian location.

Arriving at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris | Video credit:

Watch the vloggy vlog about our visit on Youtube shorts! (Audio on) | Video credit:

And thus, art enthusiasts come flocking to 8 Avenue du Mahatma Ghandi, -the exact address,- season after season to see what the Fondation’s artistic director Suzanne Pagé and her team have come up with. The last blockbuster, “Basquiat x Warhol. Four Hands,” an unprecedented exhibition dedicated to the body of work produced by these two artists in tandem, set the bar extremely high. But the Fondation has done it again.

Rothko wanted the viewer to become a co-creator, to dare to take the journey, to become part of the intimacy (that probably would not include smartphones, but here we are anyways, taking photos of it all) | Photo credit:

Now it was time for Mark Rothko to take over. Titled quite simply “Mark Rothko (1903-1970),” the exhibition brings together some 115 works by the American artist, literally taking over the entire Frank Gehry building across eleven galleries. It’s the first retrospective of the American painter in France since the exhibit the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1999 and comprises works from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Tate Britain, and the Phillips Collection, as well as international private collections, including the artist’s family collection. If you’ve ever worked at a museum, you will know that’s quicker said than done.

The only existing self-portrait of Rothko, dating back to 1936. The lack of setting and monochrome background recall his interest in Rembrandt’s self-portraits, which he often visited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York | Photo credit:
“Gethseamane” (1944); the exhibition is organized chronologically, allowing you to witness first-hand how the “classic” Rothko paintings are very different from his early works | Photo credit:

The exhibition is organized chronologically, taking you all the way back to the early Rothko, whose figurative paintings depict intimate scenes and urban landscapes. It is only in 1946, at age 43, that Rothko transitions to abstract expressionism and in the 1950s that the “classic” Rothko’s came to be.

Head up and up the Frank Gehry building, and so emerge those quintessential Rothko works. Ascending, you become aware of how extensive the exhibition really is, and why everyone is here to see it all, together.

The Tate Britain loaned its entire Rothko Room to the Fondation (which replicated the favor by loaning Joan Mitchell works to hang in place in London meanwhile). The deep red hues of the Seagram Murals really have traveled far and wide; it was in 1958 that Rothko was commissioned to paint a series of works for the Four Seasons restaurant by Philip Johnson for the Seagram Building in New York. Among experts, it’s a widely discussed topic as to whether Rothko didn’t know where his paintings would end up. “I hope to ruin the appetite of every son of a b**** who ever eats in that room,” the artist said in conversation in 1959 with John Fischer, the publisher of Harper’s Magazine. Long story short, Rothko decided not to deliver the paintings and keep the entire series, donating it eleven years later, in 1969, to the Tate Britain. And now here they are, exceptionally, in Paris.

“If people want sacred experiences they will find them here. If they want profane experiences they’ll find them too.” – Mark Rothko; painting part of the Seagram Murals loaned by the Tate Britain | Photo credit:
Exploring the history of the “Seagram Murals,” now the subject of the Rothko Room at the Tate Britain and exceptionally on view at the Fondation Louis Vuitton | Photo credit:

Similarly, the Philipps Collection’s Rothko Room is featured at the Fondation. And then there’s the Giacometti. Rothko’s 1969-1970 “Black and Grey” series are on view in the Fondation’s tallest room, next to Alberto Giacometti’s large-scale sculptural figures. It’s the closest an exhibition has ever come to what Rothko had in mind for UNESCO commission that was never realized.

Rothko alongside Giacometti, the closest an exhibition has ever come to a UNESCO commission that never came to be | Photo credit:
One for Giacometti and Rothko | Video credit:

There are things in life that are never realized, and never understood. In fact, many people speak of Rothko and color is the main subject (hence also my title, “A Blockbuster of Color,” for this article, it really is about color for most people). But it is Rothko himself that affirmed, “I am not interested in color. It’s light I’m after.” That is why, when he worked closely with the Phillips Collection on the only Rothko Room inaugurated during his lifetime in 1960, he requested subdued lighting, encouraging contemplation. That is also why he would sign his works on the back, so as not to interrupt the viewer’s experience. A Rothko really does take you over.

The takeover culminates all the way at the top of the Frank Gehry building. In fact, if you happen to visit the Fondation at any point in time (it usually stays open in between exhibition changes), be sure to step out onto the rooftop terrace. You’ll see, and not see, Paris – glance at the photo below to understand what I mean. Take the elevator, descend, and you’ll get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Gehry, too, knew was he was doing; the lifts are strategically positioned precisely for this snapshot.

On the rooftop terrace of the Frank Gehry building, you can see, and not see, Paris | Photo credit:
Zoom in to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower | Photo credit:

It’s an afternoon I cannot forget. When a luxury heritage brand motivates you to explore, to travel, to learn, I appreciate it so much more (hello, brand awareness marketing executives). In fact, I already said that when we went to see the Louis Vuitton pop-up bookstore in Arles last summer. In May, I look forward to the brand’s program of cultural events coinciding with the Louis Vuitton cruise show and the America’s Cup in Barcelona. Now, the Fondation’s exhibition made me want to travel to Houston, Texas, to see the Rothko chapel. And when I’m back in Paris, I hope they’ll have another blockbuster art exhibition (Ellsworth Kelly and Henri Matisse are coming up next!). I might not wear the LV logo; it’s a little too loud for me on luggage, bags, shoes, and clothes. But, Louis, you have taken over my artistic and cultural heart all the way. And so have you, always, dear Mark.

Plan your visit

Fondation Louis Vuitton.

  •  8 Av. du Mahatma Gandhi, 75116 Paris, France.
  • Mondays, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 12.00 nooon to 7.00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 11.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
  • Closed on Tuesdays.
  • The Rothko exhibition will be open until April 2, 2024.
  • “Ellsworth Kelly. Shapes and Colors, 1949-2015” and “Matisse: The Red Studio” will be opening on May 4, 2024. The Foundation will remain open in between exhibition.
  • Buy tickets here.
  • More information:
Quick little fit check on the rooftop terrace and à bientôt! | Video credit:

Thank you, Fondation Louis Vuitton, for inviting us.

Questions or comments? Follow me on IG @isabelevabohrer or TikTok and say hi! See you soon!

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