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Art & Culture, Chapels and Churches, Fine Art, Sculptures

Rothko Chapel on Menil Campus in Houston, Texas

Posted: June 3, 2016 at 4:09 pm   /   by   /   comments (1)

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Sacred Places

There are two chapels on the campus of The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.  They are worlds apart in most respects and yet one might also see some similarities.

The similarities start from the fact that both are chapels dedicated to quiet reflection. No interior photographs are allowed to be taken. They are a quick walking distance apart.

Exterior of Rothko Chapel

Both were constructed because of the wealth and generosity of Dominique de Menil.  She has left Houston, Texas with a magnificent legacy.   It consists of a grand museum filled with a lifetime collection of wonderful art plus these two distinctive chapels.

Lawn outside of the Rothko Chapel

Lawn outside of the Rothko Chapel

The exteriors of The Rothko Chapel and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel are modern in design but show little of what is in the interior to the public.

One must venture inside to see the hidden treasures and determine the striking differences for oneself. Both are open and free of charge to the public.  This post will focus solely on the Rothko Chapel.

Set in a quiet neighborhood not far from the Museum District of Houston and St. Thomas University, these buildings are nestled in between small bungalow homes.  Students from the nearby St. Thomas University often stretch out on this lawn outside of the Rothko Chapel with their books when studying.

Were it not for the much larger museum of the Menil Collection drawing art lovers to this location and then the small unobtrusive signs by the streets pointing the way to both of these chapels, they could easily be overlooked.  They might never be noticed by a casual passerby especially if traveling by automobile.

Another view of Broken Obelisk & reflection pool

Another view of Broken Obelisk

Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is a rather simple and modern looking structure giving no hint of what is inside.

John and Dominique de Menil commissioned the famous modern artist, Mark Rothko, to create his distinctive canvasses specifically for this site in 1964.

Rothko had an interest in working with the architects so that the space would suit his works of art.   He was definitely a “hands on” participant. As a matter of fact, he often requested (demanded) that museums and other venues be readied to his exact specifications prior to allowing his work to be shown.

Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman

Bamboo surrounds 2 sides of the reflection pool & sculpture outside of the Rothko Chapel.

Bamboo surrounds 2 sides of the reflection pool & sculpture outside of the Rothko Chapel.

The most distinctive thing one first sees outside of the Rothko Chapel is a reflection pool created by Philip Johnson. It is not merely the reflection pool that grabs one’s attention but the sculpture titled Broken Obelisk created by artist Barnet Newman that is mounted rising up out of the water.

Tall bamboo outlines two sides of this pretty site and benches are provided for people to sit and rest or even meditate.

When the Menils acquired this Broken Obelisk sculpture and had it relocated here from Washington, D.C., they dedicated it to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior.

Mark Rothko Paintings

The non-denominational Rothko Chapel was completed in 1971.  Inside the central area one discovers an octagonal shaped room with 14 primarily black canvasses.  They have slight variations of color on these large pieces of art which dominate the interior walls.

Wooden benches are arranged along the walls.  They are also placed in a somewhat circular pattern in the middle of the room.

We have been there when some large smooth black rocks were situated in the center of the room. It almost has a Zen-like feeling inside this chapel. A hushed atmosphere prevails in this modern art space.

The Rothko Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 16, 2000. Mark Rothko never saw this chapel with his name on it completed as his suicide death preceded it’s completion.

The video below shows a bit about Rothko as a person as well as showing some of his paintings.

Morton Feldman wrote a musical piece called The Rothko Chapel in 1971.   There are numerous youtube videos playing portions of it, one of which is included for your enjoyment in the video below.

Hope you enjoyed learning a bit about this unique chapel structure. If you like the art of Mark Rothko and currently live or are visiting Houston, Texas…be sure and check out this chapel dedicated solely to his art.

The Rothko Chapel is one of the jewels crowning the campus of the Menil Collection which is a very modern museum building housing a vast collection of art.  That museum is also free and open to the public.

The address of the Rothko Chapel is 1409 Sul Ross St., Houston, Texas 77006.

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