Artists Museums Latvia

Latvia opens museum dedicated to Rothko

Daugavpils, the birthplace of the Modern artist, hopes to become a destination for cultural tourism

Visitors at the opening of the Mark Rothko Arts Centre in Daugavpils, 24 April 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The Mark Rothko Art Center opened on Wednesday 24 April in Daugavpils, Latvia, the birthplace of the late artist, whose work shattered auction records for contemporary art in 2012. His family has donated a small collection of original works by Rothko, which are on display.

Daugavpils, in the south-east of the country, has pinned its hopes on the fame of its native son to turn it into an international cultural tourism destination comparable to Bilbao. Latvia, a former Soviet republic that joined the European Union in 2004, has been hit hard by the economic crisis.

Six works by Rothko are on display at the centre, which is located in a restored 19th-century fortress. Rothko’s daughter, Kate Rothko Prizel, 62, and his son, Christopher Rothko, 48, attended the opening. The space also shows work by local artists.

Daugavpils was known as Dvinsk and was part of the Russian Empire when Rothko was born, as Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, in 1903. He was ten when growing anti-Jewish sentiment resulted in his family fleeing to the US, where he grew up, becoming one of the most famous abstract artists of the 20th century. The Soviet Union annexed Latvia after the Second World War.

Rothko, who died in 1970, broke auction records for contemporary art when his Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961, sold for $87m at Christie’s in 2012. Russia has also recently embraced Rothko. An exhibition of his works in 2010 was one of the most talked-about shows at Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow.

Daugavpils, with a heavily Russian-speaking population of around 105,000, is Latvia’s second-largest city, and is closer to the Russian border than to Riga, the country’s capital.

The European Union and Daugavpils’s city council are funding the new centre. The city unveiled a monument to the artist on the bank of the Daugava River in 2003 and has been holding an artists’ plein air painting event to mark his birthday in September.

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