Portland Art Museum is Tapping into the Legacy of Arguably Oregon’s Greatest Artist

Now, finally, Portland is getting a long-term display of Rothko’s works.

Rothko exhibit at the Portland Art Museum.

Before Mark Rothko became one of the most prominent abstract expressionists of all time, he was a student at Lincoln High School.

After emigrating from Eastern Europe, Rothko's family settled here in Portland. This city is where he grew up, and also where he held his first solo exhibit. But the artist's connection to the city isn't well-known, partly because he's associated with the New York School, and partly because his best-known works are scattered around the globe, and the Rothko Chapel is in Houston.

View of the east entrance.

Now, finally, Portland is getting a long-term display of Rothko's works. In October, the Portland Art Museum announced a major expansion in collaboration with the artist's children, who will loan a rotation of his works to the museum over a 20-year period. The facility is called the Rothko Pavilion, and construction will begin in 2018 and be completed by early 2021. The pavilion is a striking glass atrium that will connect the museum's two freestanding buildings. Along with a rotating display of Rothkos, it will also house new gallery spaces and a rooftop sculpture garden.

For its relatively small size, the Portland Art Museum curates some hefty exhibits: It had an extensive Warhol exhibit last fall, and its current Rodin exhibit contains over 50 of the sculptor's works. It also has a solid permanent collection that's scattered with pieces by modern art giants like Monet (including a Waterlilies), Cezanne, Brâncusi and Van Gogh.

But consistent loans of works by an artist as major as Rothko is a big deal for the museum—especially given the local ties. Rothko is probably the best-known, and certainly one of the most visceral abstract expressionists. Even more exciting is the increase in prestige for the museum, which could mean big possibilities for whatever it puts in the rest of the pavilion.

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