Sunday, May 13, 2007

My (family) connection to Mark Rothko

Here is the story of how I am connected through my family to Mark Rothko and the Seagram Murals. Samual Bronfman (a Canadian) had purchased the Seagram beverage company in 1928. By that time he was well on his way to having made $800 million between 1919 and 1934 bootlegging to the U.S. during prohibition. In 1957 The Seagram company would be soon be 100 years old and Mr. Bronfman chose to celebrate by building a skyscraper in the "international style" in down town New York.

He commissioned a design and sent the drawings to his more knowledgable daughter (Phyllis Bronfman Lambert) who was studying art in Paris at the time. She made 16 or so suggestions, and so he asked her to take on the project. Phyllis accepted proposals from five architects, (Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, William Gropius, I.M. Pei and Mies Van der Rohe. Mies won the competition. The building would be 39 stories tall, sheathed in bronze and tinted glass.

There was to be a Four Seasons restaurant on the ground floor and Philip Johnson was recruited by Phylis Lambert to design that. Philip and Phylis commissioned Mark Rothko to provide 500 to 600 square feet of oil paint on canvas for $35,000. He would be given $7000 up front, and the remainder would be divided over the next four years.
OK, here is how my family is (sorta kinda) connected to the project (and hence to Rothko):

Phyllis Lambert founded the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal. Last summer my son (Jay) EJ Martin was one of three graduate students who won a research grant from the CCA. Jay actually participated in a luncheon meeting with the regal Phyllis. His photographic research from that summer can be viewed here.
By the way, Rothko changed his mind about hanging his paintings in a restaurant and withdrew from the project. The paintings that he created for the Four Seasons instead now hang in three major art galleries around the world: the Tate Modern in London England, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA and the Kawamura Museum of Modern Art in Japan.

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Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx