DAVID LEVINE
LIGHT MATTER - Performance
Friday 29 June & Saturday 30 June 2012, 8 pm

On February 25, 1970, my mother received a call from Oliver Steindecker, Mark Rothko’s studio assistant, informing her that Rothko had committed suicide and was lying on the floor of his studio in a pool of blood. My mom took a cab from her house and helped identify the body. She was one month pregnant with me.

Rothko named his three closest friends—my father, Stamos, a fellow painter, and Bernard Reis, his accountant—as his executors. Within three months, the executors had sold or consigned the entire stock of paintings to Marlborough Fine Art at a drastic discount. In 1971, Rothko's daughter began legal proceedings to have the executors removed for “conspiring to waste the assets of the estate.” Within two years my father had lost his job and his marriage. Within three years “The Matter of Rothko” had become the biggest scandal the New York art world had ever seen. Within five years my father was fined $6 million for his role in the affair, and within ten he was dead.

—"Matter of Rothko," by David Levine*


How is genius established, and does it always require collateral damage? What does it mean to be a human stepping-stone? How does tragedy create value? What is the relationship between genius, appropriation, and expropriation? Can luminosity save us?

Covering the 1980's romantic comedy Legal Eagles, sculptors who are dentists, the hairlines of High Modernism, and the fate of the artist's own father, Levine's lecture-performance explores the personal legacy of Abstract Expressionism through legal documents, evidentiary slides, secretly recorded phone calls, video clips, and the market-altering lawsuit that led to the term "Rothko damages."

*published in Triple Canopy #13, July 21, 2011