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In solid magazine-journalism style (but with enough vehemence to suggest less than absolute objectivity), Seldes marches step by step through ""the art world's own little Watergate""--the orgy of self-dealing, conflict-of-interest, fraud, coverup, and personal betrayal that followed abstract expressionist Mark Rothko's suicide in 1970. By prefacing this ""study in greed"" and the ensuing trial with a crisp, sad mini-biography of Rothko, featuring a careful study of his wayward ways with money and business, Seldes implies that at least a small part of the blame was Rothko's own: too willing to leave worrisome responsibilities to others, like accountant-wheeler-dealer Bernard Reis, he left his family--wife Mell (who died soon after Rothko), daughter Kate, son Christopher--a legacy of avoidance and patsydom. Not that Seldes finds an iota of justification for Reis and the other executors of Rothko's estate, who sold 100 paintings worth $50-100,000 each for about $15,000 each to the Marlborough Gallery (where Reis worked and executor Stamos exhibited); who consigned another 700 works to Marlborough on an absurd 50% commission basis; who ignored friend Rothko's fervent wish for the paintings to remain in groups. Compared to these grisly Judases, dapper Viennese Marlborough owner Frank Lloyd merely emerges as a nasty, clever crook--funneling funds through Liechtenstein, smuggling canvases to Toronto, using his own version of Rosemary Woods to ""white out"" incriminating records. And to balance all these villains--the lawyers on both sides come off badly too--there's a heroine in Kate Rothko, who remains a shade too sketchy a character to play the Goliath-killer role that Seldes has assigned her. But Seldes handles the lawSuit and trial complexities with communicative ease and neither sidesteps nor sensationalizes some still-touchy subjects, like the lingering doubts about whether Rothko did commit suicide after all. Courtroom drama, good guys vs. bad guys, the art-world bared--strong, intricate stuff, whatever your taste in art.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1978
ISBN: 0306807254
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston