Tuesday, October 12

Visiting Rothko Chapel

Reflecting Pond at Rothko Chapel

Last weekend I visited the Rothko Chapel here. It had been a long, long time.

For some reason, when you live somewhere, you don’t get around to seeing the sights and attractions in your own area very often. I don’t know why that is, but I doubt that many native New Yorkers visit the Empire State Building very often either.

Located in the arts and Museum District, the chapel is only about a block away from the Menil Collection, itself a very fine art museum and worthy of being visited often. The chapel was developed and gifted by John and Dominique de Menil in 1971. Mark Rothko, the well-known Abstract Expressionist, was commissioned by the de Menils to create a sacred place.

It’s a somewhat plain setting on a regular neighborhood block with an abundance of oak and pecan trees. Its early-1970s style and architecture, beige and boxy, account for the austerity, I think. There’s a reflecting pond out front with a Barnett Newman sculpture, Broken Obelisk, standing within.

Inside there’s a small reception area, and beyond that the chapel is simple and rather dimly lit, even on a sunny day, with a large overhead skylight. Long, dark benches line up on either side of the main aisle. It is non-denominational.

In keeping with the quiet and somber mood are fourteen Rothko paintings hanging on the walls of the octagonal room. I don’t know the dimensions of the paintings, but they are very large; I would estimate them to be about 8 ft. (2.4 m.) wide x 20 ft. (6.1 m.) high.

However, it is the colors that Rothko used on the paintings--black and deep purple--that is so striking. Known as a Color Field painter, Rothko only painted with these two colors, which cover the canvases.

A quote from Dominique de Menil in the pamphlet you are handed says it best, “It is a place where a great artist, turned towards the Absolute, had the courage to paint almost nothing—and did it masterfully.”

Until next blog…

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