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Rothko: Pictures Must Be Miraculous (2019)Rothko: Pictures Must Be Miraculous (2019)

This one-hour PBS biographical documentary opens with an improbable event in 2012: the day Mark Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow" (1961) sold for $87 million, which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a post-war painting in the world. "I think he would have been appalled," says his daughter Kate, who with her brother Christopher narrates much of this film about their father. Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz (1903–1970) was born into what is now Latvia (at the time part of the Russian Empire), and immigrated to the United States when he was ten. He earned a full scholarship to Yale, but dropped out his sophomore year and moved to New York City. For the first twenty-five years of his career, his son recalls, all his work was done at nights and on weekends, for he had a day job as a teacher. But around 1950, he and a few other painters (Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning) pioneered what became known as abstract expressionism, a movement that effectively moved the center of the art world from Paris to New York. He had finally found his own artistic voice, and what became one of the most recognized artistic styles ever — his color blocks, which look like deceptively simple rectangles. The title of the film comes from a Rothko quote: "a painting must be miraculous." I watched this film on Netflix.

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