On a quiet winter morning a lone visitor sits reading on a simple wooden bench in a space described by chapel founder Dominique de Menil as a “no-man’s land of God.” Except for a small collection of books from different spiritual traditions there are no religious symbols, only fourteen large paintings, all black with but with subtle hints of color, filling the walls of the small octagonal building. Chapel Executive Director Emilee
Broken Obelisk sculpture in front of the Rothko Chapel
Dawn Whitehurst says the building is about artist Mark Rothko’s vision of “sacred geometry” as much as it is about his stark paintings.
“In creating the chapel they wanted to create a sacred place with art that would transform the spirit and enable people to feel passion and compassion in a way that they wouldn’t if they were not able to sit in the presence of this powerful art.”
Dedicated in 1971, the Rothko Chapel was conceived by Houston art collectors and philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil who comissioned Rothko to create the massive canvases. Their intent was to create a place where art, spirituality, and social justice intersect. Over the past four decades the chapel has received worldwide recognition as a major artistic achievement and a spiritual destination, something Whitehurst attributes to the couple’s visionary thinking.
“Forty years ago people weren’t talking about meditation and contemplation like they are now. So one of the interesting things about being at the chapel now is that it’s almost as if the rest of the world has caught up to where they were forty years ago. And so the interesting opportunity for the chapel is to expand its reach to people who may be now more ready for its gift.”
Anniversary activities include a special program on Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. The “Broken Obelisk” sculpture in the outside reflecting pool is dedicated to King’s memory. The chapel is also holding forty days of silent noontime meditation.
“I hope that people who’ve heard of it, and haven’t ever visited or who’ve popped in but never really sat here, will take the time to come and experience this place. It will reward you.”
Above photos were provided by the Rothko Chapel.