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Rothko in the '40s opens 

And portraiture shows make three at the Arts Center.

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The Arkansas Arts Center has a triple-header starting Friday, Oct. 25, when its much-anticipated exhibition "Mark Rothko in the 1940s: The Decisive Decade" opens along with two other significant shows.

The Rothko show was organized in 2009 by Arts Center Director Todd Herman when he was chief curator at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina. On Thursday, Oct. 24, the eve of the opening, University of South Carolina art history professor Dr. Bradford R. Collins will give a talk, "Rothko's Dilemma: Beauty and Tragedy," at 6 p.m. in the lecture hall. Members will get in free to the talk and the reception afterward; non-members may attend and go to the reception for $15.

Also opening Friday: "Face to Face: Artists' Self-Portraits from the Collection of Jackye and Curtis Finch Jr.," and "Portraiture Now: Drawing on the Edge." The Rothko exhibition will be in the Winthrop Rockefeller gallery, where the permanent collection normally hangs, and "Face to Face" and "Portraiture" will be in the Townsend Wolfe and Jeannette Rockefeller galleries.

The Arts Center is collaborating with the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, which opens a play about Rothko and his assistant, "Red," on Friday. There will be ticket deals and Herman will attend three post-production "salons" at the theater to talk about the artist.

When we think of Rothko, we think of his color field paintings, stacked fuzzy squares of highly saturated color, sometimes floating in a sea of color. The Rothko exhibit includes paintings, drawings and watercolors created by the artist in what you might call the incubation period of those color-field masterpieces. Mythology and symbolic references to the coming war dominate Rothko's work in the 1940s as the painter edged away from the figurative to the abstract. The works are colorful even if the artist's desired effect was not to cheer but illuminate the human condition. (A brief stint as Arshile Gorky's student seems to have had a huge impression on Rothko's choices of line and color in his pre-abstract style; in turn, Rothko seems to have influenced Helen Frankenthaler's stain paintings.)

The works in the show are on loan from the National Gallery in Washington. The catalog accompanying the Rothko exhibit includes an introduction and forward by Herman.

The "Face to Face" exhibition includes self-portraits by such celebrated artists as Paul Cadmus, Sigmund Abeles, Robert Arneson, John Himmelfarb, Lawrence Finney, James Valerio, Kent Bellows and many others. I haven't seen the show, but its catalog — written by Brad Cushman, curator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock — is mouth-watering.

The portraits in "Portraiture Now" are on loan from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Ben Durham's portraits are images created with words; Mary Borgman creates larger-than-life charcoals; Till Freiwald's watercolors are layered and luminous. There's more.

Little Rock artist Catherine Rodgers will lead a workshop, "Paint Like Rothko — Color: Complement, Shade, Tone and Tint," from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27. To register, call 372-4000.

All three shows will remain on exhibit through Feb. 9.

Now for some North Little Rock news: The Thea Foundation, 401 Main St. in Argenta, opens the first of four emerging artist exhibitions, "The Picture Never Changes," printmaking by Dustyn Bork and Carly Dahl, on Monday, Oct. 28. The series is called "The Art Department"; a reception for young professionals with music by the Funk-A-Nites is scheduled Nov. 7 ($10). The garage venue Good Weather Gallery at 4400 Edgemere opens a collaborative installation by Lauren Cherry and Max Springer, "Plaza," with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27. The Red Door Gallery at 3715 JFK Blvd. will hold its annual "Holiday Open House" from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26; the Ted Ludwig jazz group will play.

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