back in h-town: rothko chapel

Last week I posted about the Menil Collection, so of course I now need to talk about the little Rothko Chapel as well! It’s a block away from the Menil and was commissioned by the same Dominique and John de Menil, but the last time I visited it was probably around 10 years ago. While the Rothko Chapel is technically a chapel … it doesn’t really feel/seem like a chapel other than the atmosphere inside. It’s actually more of a mini gallery of Mark Rothko’s paintings.

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Er … this cat is not the Rothko Chapel. But he (or she?) was hanging out in front of it, so I just had to take a photo. But hmm … it doesn’t look very happy at having its picture taken. The Rothko Chapel itself is a bit … odd. Okay, very odd. It’s modern architecture (courtesy of American architect Philip Johnson), so whatever. The exterior is brick and the main interior is an octagonal space with 14 large black paintings (that aren’t completely solid black, but still essentially black) on the walls and some benches. Its skylight is baffled, probably because they realized light was bad for the paintings and the dimness of the space now is kinda nice.

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At the Menil, there are a few Mark Rothko paintings that are essentially extras for the Rothko Chapel. That was pretty interesting. In the Rothko Chapel, the large format of the paintings and the darkness of their hues, organized around the perimeter of the very regular and dim space, created a heavy, serene environment that felt safe to be in. But in addition to the front desk/receptionist guy, there were two people monitoring the main space, and  for a such a small space it seemed overkill. When I entered, there was one woman sitting quietly on a bench, but a group of tourists (with a baby!) entered shortly after, and they were not in there for silent contemplation.

I know museum guards and watchful volunteers are necessary to prevent vandalism, which is an unfortunate statement on today’s society … but it’s hard to appreciate a space when it’s made to feel like a prison with someone always watching you. And it’s great that more people going out and appreciating art and architecture … but it’s annoying when they don’t offer the deserved respect. If I could have the Rothko Chapel to myself, now that would be nice. But as it is and despite my love of chapels and churches and cathedrals, I doubt I’ll be visiting it again any time soon … unless I’m bored. Then, maybe.

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