Sniffing Out the Subtle Secrets of the Rothko Chapel

SNIFFING OUT THE SUBTLE SECRETS OF THE ROTHKO CHAPEL Rothko Chapel, 3900 Yupon St., Montrose, HoustonExploring the Menil’s quiet, deep-purple monument, the Chronicle‘s Leah Binkovitz turns up a couple new lines of investigation: “In a turn Rothko, with his proscriptions for proper viewing, could never have anticipated, the chapel has its own Yelp page. ‘Whatever, some people don’t like to think too much about life and what our place is and if you’re one of those people, this isn’t the place for you,’ writes Eric J. in his recent review, ‘You need to head on down to Moody Gardens for “Pirates” or whatever.’ Inside, there’s a collection of Rothko paintings — dark and turbid — that surround the viewer. When the sun sifting through the clerestory shifts, the purple panels shine like scars. People meditate on cushions on the ground or lean against each other on the benches. The occasional crinkle of a plastic bag breaks the silence. There’s a smell, a specific Rothko Chapel smell. That’s the first thing two dashing young men in khaki shorts comment on when they leave the chapel.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Ed Uthman [license; cropped]

17 Comment

  • Perhaps my old eyes just can’t pick up the subtleties. The ‘paintings’ are all black. The atmosphere is like a prison. You can’t tell whether the inmates are mediating or contemplating suicide. Houstonians desperate for city distinctions wet themselves over this crap and out-of-towners play along to make fun of us.

  • If an out-of-towner wanted to make fun of Houston, there are a multitude of easier targets than the Rothko Chapel. Just the drive in from the airport on 45 will give any out-of-towner loads of risible material.

  • It may not be your “old eyes” per se, but the aporia that prevents you from seeing.

  • I won’t say the Rothko chapel is my favorite of the Menil projects. It’s like the Menil Collection’s and the Twombly and Flavin galleries’ less attractive, less successful, less witty younger brother.

  • I like to take out-of-towners down hwy 225 past the chemical plants (with windows down of course). It’s always an unforgettable experience for them.

  • I like Rothko a lot. But the black album cover scene in Spinal Tap forever ruined the Chapel for me.

  • I actually find the Rothko Chapel peaceful. When I first went as a kid I was like WTF, but as I’ve gotten older I appreciate its subtlety. I loath the Twombly Gallery, what a pile of shit. I like Piano’s building, but the “Art” is hideous. I mean scribble on a wall? He doesn’t even have good penmanship! Some stick in a plaster pile of shit? I mean really, WTF? I admire Mrs Menil, but she really was a sucker for dubious “Artists”. I guess when you inherit a money tree and never really work, you champion eccentrics like yourself. She was a Houston treasure, but wow she bought some real crap.

  • The Chapel is for those types who see depth and beauty in nihilism, and I guess I’m not one of them. Been there, saw it, left nonplussed. Rothko was a troubled soul who committed suicide not long after he completed this project. if I were the contemplative type I might suggest that this commission could have contributed to his demise, but I’m not.

  • I remember the first time we visited, with no prior knowledge of what to expect. We were convinced the art had been removed for some reason, and had to double check with the folks at the desk. A different kind of place, but one where you get that “what am I missing?” feeling…

  • i do appreciate the chapel for what it is, and rothko’s stuff is not as bad as some junk that passes as “art”, but what i find most ridiculous about the paintings in the chapel is that rothko himself did not actually paint some of the paintings. do you really need to hire assistants to paint different shades of one color on a giant canvas?

  • Rothko never set foot in Houston during the commission, design and installation of the chapel and artwork. Not very thoughtful in my opinion, and much like the design of Houston…disposable and thoughtless.

  • Dominique de Menil accomplished about 5 times more than most people with twice as money much do in a lifetime. She was a lot of things, a sucker and a lazy heiress were not among them.

  • According to Rothko’s Wiki bio he was in poor health during the ’60s which limited his abilities to paint among other things, which made him despondent and drove him to suicide. Because of his limited capacity he had assistants working for him.

  • I truly love the chapel. I think that Rothko managed to capture all the tension and oppressiveness of religion without the actual content. That said, I find the place comforting and relaxing.

  • Yes I certainly wish I could anoint myself with such an Archimedian position: I don’t get Twombly therefore de Menil was a sucker.

  • Well then, please explain Twombly to me, dear. Menil bought some real clunkers get real and the women never saw a bill she had to worry about paying. Who said she was lazy? She was an independently wealthy heiress who put her money where her mouth was–good for her. It world be cool to inherit hundreds of millions and never have to answer to anyone and do what you pleased, which she certainly did.

  • rothko chapel will be the coolest thing to ever grace this city…ever. even morton feldman, my favorite composer, was roped into it it all by scoring a composition for its opening. i don’t think any houstonian will ever be able to raise the bar that high again.
    the only thing that would make this place even cooler is if they built an identical replica just beside it and filled it with massive thomas kinkade paintings and turned the Rothko chapel into a suicide booth for further funding its collection.