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Aiming to Diversify Collection, SFMOMA to Sell Mark Rothko Painting at Sotheby’s New York in May

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1960.


A Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in New York this May will feature a painting by Mark Rothko. Untitled (1960), which is estimated to sell for between $35 million and $50 million, is being deaccessioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to benefit its acquisitions fund.

Saara Pritchard, Sotheby’s senior vice president and a specialist in its contemporary art department, said in a statement that the work’s sale was a “major market moment,” adding, “This exquisite work embodies the height of Rothko’s artistic practice, and provokes an intense emotional reaction in the viewer which was [the artist’s] preoccupation at this time.”

The untitled painting is one of 19 canvases Rothko created in 1960. Two years after its making, the painting entered SFMOMA’s collection when the artist exchanged it for one of his earlier canvases that the museum already held. Before it heads to auction, Sotheby’s will show the painting in London, Taipei, Hong Kong, and New York.

According to a release by SFMOMA, the funds from the piece’s sale will be used to “broadly diversify the collection, enhance its contemporary holdings and address art historical gaps.” A SFMOMA representative told ARTnews that the Rothko piece is the only one from its holdings being deaccessioned at this time.

Neal Benezra, SFMOMA’s director, said in a statement, “With a spirit of experimentation, diversity of thought and openness to new ways of telling stories, we are rethinking our exhibitions, collections, and education programs to enhance accessibility and expand our commitment to a global perspective, while sustaining our dedication to Bay Area and California art.”

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