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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A famous painter, a wife, and exhuming two bodies

Posted By on Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 5:13 PM

Abstract painter Mark Rothko was controversial in life, and remains so 38 years after his death. Shortly before dying in 1970, the artist met with financial adviser Bernard Reis about creating an arts research foundation that would receive the majority of his works when he died. But after Rothko’s death, Reis, who was made chief executor of the estate, didn’t follow Rothko’s wishes. He sold off most of the pieces at a fraction of their value and pocketed the money. Furious, Rothko’s children filed suit. In 1975, Reis and two of Rothko’s other executors were found guilty of negligence and conflict of interest, and fined $9.2 million… But Rothko’s children didn’t just want the money back; they wanted their father, too. In a strange move, they lobbied the courts to have Rothko’s remains moved from East Marion Cemetery in Long Island to Sharon Gardens Cemetery in Valhalla, New York so he could be buried alongside his wife, Cleveland native Mary Alice. In March, the East Marion Cemetery voted to allow Rothko’s exhumation. Now the focus has turned to Mary Alice, who died six months after her husband, and is buried in Cleveland’s Knollwood Cemetery and Mausoleum. The children “have long wished to reunite their parents in a final resting place consistent with their parents’ wishes and Mark Rothko’s Jewish faith,” the Rothko children’s petition reads. Along with all the legal complications if this potential move, there remains simpler, more emotional issue. At the time of Rothko’s death, Mary Alice had been separated from her husband for six months. And friends say that Mary Alice never said anything about wanting to be buried alongside Mark. The Ohio court battle hasn’t yet begun, but it’s all enough to cause a massive coronary. Rothko once famously said: “The only thing I care about is the expression of man's basic emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, destiny.” He could have been talking about his own after-life. — Rebecca Meiser

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