New York gallery Pace marked the opening of its major new space in the west wing of the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens building, last week with the opening of the Rothko/Sugimoto exhibition.

The show aims to juxtaposes Mark Rothko’s late black and grey paintings with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s contemporary photographs of bodies of water. The exhibition marks the first private gallery presentation of Rothko’s work in London in nearly fifty years and continues Pace’s five-decade tradition of exhibitions that explore affinities between artists working across decades and mediums.

“According to Rothko’s children, their father did not like group shows, “feeling that they only detracted from the concentrated power of his work displayed in its own company”. But in a joint statement, Kate and Christopher Rothko said they had made an exception because in Sugimoto they had found “not just a kindred spirit but a soulmate”.

The eight Rothko paintings are from 1969, the year before his suicide. These lesser known works show the artist abandoning the banks of colour for which he had become famous, and rely on a limited palette of black and grey.

Sugimoto’s seascapes are similarly limited in palette:
“For several decades I have created seascapes. Not depicting the world in photographs, I’d like to think, but rather projecting my internal seascapes onto the canvas of the world. Skies now forming bright rectangles, water now melting into dark fluid rectangles. I sometimes think I see a dark horizon cutting across Mark Rothko’s paintings. It’s then I unconsciously realize that paintings are more truthful than photographs and photographs are more illusory than paintings.”

“Rothko’s use of medium as pure abstraction communes with the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto who, decades later, used the medium itself to reconsider photography’s relationship to his viewers’ perception of the world. In addition to exploring the visual dialogue between Rothko’s dark paintings and Sugimoto’s photographs—both characterized by a binary format of black and grey rectangular elements—the pairings mine the philosophical affinities between the two artists, each offering a meditation on universal and cosmological concerns”. (From Pace Gallery website.)

• Rothko/Sugimoto is at Pace London, 4 October-17 November