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Saturday 23.09.2017 | Name days: Vanda, Veneranda, Venija
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Rothko’s family brings his paintings to Latvia

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Author: REUTERS/SCANPIX

Opening the Rothko’s Art Center in Daugavpils, Christopher Rothko says his father would be less happy about auctions that value his works as being among the world’s most expensive. The record for a Rothko so far is $86.9 million.

The transfer of works to eastern Latvia comes as the country tries to boost tourism through its ties with Rothko, whose paintings were mainly produced in New York. The art center cost 4 million lati ($7.5 million) to refurbish, about 85 percent of which was provided by the European Commission, Bloomberg wrote.

The gallery is about 230 kilometers (142 miles) from the Latvian capital Riga, a car journey that takes three hours.

“Other than the Tate, I don’t think there is any museum outside of America that has more than three Rothkos,” says Christopher, wearing a dark suit and red tie.

Hanging on the walls are Rothko works in signature colors: blazing reds, blood orange, dark chocolate and splashes of buttercup yellow. Christopher Rothko declines to give an estimated value for the works, which are on loan from the Rothko family for three years. The plan is to show pictures on a rotating basis after that.

The center is in a refurbished military arsenal, commissioned in 1831 by Russia’s Emperor Nicholas I. In addition to Rothko’s work, reproductions and archives, the center will house artist residences and studios.

Marcus Rothkowitz was born in Daugavpils on Sept. 25, 1903, when the city was known as Dvinsk. He emigrated a decade later – – first to Portland, Oregon, and later to New York City.

The family moved to avoid military conscription into the Tsarist army and because of pogroms against Jews in surrounding regions, says Christopher.

The aim now is to demonstrate that Rothko was not just an American phenomenon — “that he had strong roots here, that he had history here,” says Christopher. “It’s moving for me because Daugavpils was just an idea when I was growing up. I didn’t have a sense of what it was or where it was or what it meant to my father.”

Christopher, with his sister Kate Rothko Prizel, came to Riga in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth: for the first exhibition of his work in eastern Europe, held in Riga and St. Petersburg.

“My father used to sit down with a map and explain where we come from,” says Kate, also at the Daugavpils opening. The painter’s father was probably born in a small shtetl or village near the city. When she first visited the area, she was met with bread and salt, a traditional welcome in Russia, Latvia and neighboring countries.

The Rothko archives revealed that he had considered a show in eastern Europe as he grew older and nostalgic, and the political situation had made it impossible, Kate says.

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