The exterior of SFMOMA.
Photo: Context Travel

SFMOMA to Sell Mark Rothko Painting at Sotheby’s

The museum will use the proceeds of the sale to diversify its collection and set up an endowment for future acquisitions

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has announced plans to sell Mark Rothko’s Untitled, 1960, at a Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction this May.

The museum intends to use the profits from the sale, which is estimated to go for between $35 million and $50 million, to “address art historical gaps” in their collection like works by women and people of color. The proceeds will also be used to create a new endowment fund for future acquisitions, The New York Times reports.

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1960. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's

“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,” Neal Benezra, SFMOMA’s director, said in a statement.

Benezra said that the painting has not been exhibited at the museum since 2002 and has not been lent anywhere since 2008. Peggy Guggenheim donated Rothko’s Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea to the museum in 1946, where it remained until SFMOMA asked the artist to swap it for a more contemporary work. The painter gave them this work in the trade.

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The director went on to say that the museum’s acquisition budget is currently $3 million, making it difficult to compete in the modern art market and causing the institution to rely mainly on works being donated.

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

Before the work hits the auction block on May 16, it will be on view at Sotheby’s in London, Taipei, Hong Kong, and New York.

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