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Visiting the Rothko chapel in Houston (TX)

Bijgewerkt op: 7 okt. 2018

So we had already seen Rothko at Tate Modern. Not once, not twice, but again and again. In 2014, 52 paintings could be seen in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (Holland). So we went to see that exhibition too. Every time taking the time to sit on a bench, and let the art in.

It can be quiet in a museum or gallery, but at a Rothko exhibition it always is extremely quiet. I guess it is because you either love and respect Rothko’s work or you just don’t. It’s black vs white. So not lovers usually take a very, very short look and walk on, not knowing what they have missed, leaving the sacred place to the believers.

We belong to the believers, so having read about the Rothko chapel in Houston we finally got there earlier this year. Influenced by Henri Matisse’s Chapel of the Rosary in Vence and Le Corbusier’s chapel Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, it were Dominique and John de Menil who commissioned Rothko in 1964 to create a sacred place in Houston. In 1971 the chapel opened as a landmark of modern sacred art and a sanctuary for contemplation. Rothko died a year before, never saw the completed chapel, and never installed the paintings.

On the first day we went to visit the chapel, it was cloudy outside. The indirect daylight coming in was soft, and since the works are already dark, they were even darker now and we felt kind of disappointed, even slightly depressed. Now the jetlag might have influenced that feeling too, I guess.

We went back the next day. That day there was a strong wind, blowing the clouds across the sky and making plenty room for the sunlight to enter the chapel. It was a mindblowing experience. Like sitting on a roller coaster. When the clouds blocked the sunlight coming in, it was already a completely different experience compared to the day before, but then… every time the sky was cleared and the sunlight entered the chapel full force… it was as if the works came alive, an explosion of all shades of darker colors (chestnut brown, brock reds, deep reds, black mauves,…). With the wind blowing hard, it became a series of explosions.

Rothko and the Transcendental Tranquility//Oceans Project:

Looking at some of my works in the Transcendental Tranquility project…, one cannot be surprised by my relation with the works of Rothko. Stripping the observation to the essence of light, horizon and ocean and then abstracting it, creates intriguing images that exude an almost threatening silence. Transcendental Tranquility invites repeated viewing, discovering layers in which one drowns until he or she obtains a sense of peace that is to often lacking in our lives.The alienation techniques, repetitiveness, and uncontrolled motion blur create a twilight that allows room for reflection and interpretation. Far, light years away, from comparing myself to Rothko, I therefor find the copy below interesting to read.

“For some, to witness Rothko’s paintings is to submit one's self to a spiritual experience, which, through its transcendence of subject matter, approximates that of consciousness itself. It forces one to approach the limits of experience, and awakens one to the awareness of one's own existence. For others, the chapel houses fourteen large paintings whose dark, nearly impenetrable surfaces represent hermeticism and contemplation.

On February 28, 1971, at the dedication of the Rothko chapel, Dominique de Menil said, "We are cluttered with images and only abstract art can bring us to the threshold of the divine," noting Rothko's courage in painting what might be called "impenetrable fortresses" of color.”

The drama for many critics of Rothko's work is the uneasy position of the paintings between, as Chase notes, "nothingness or vapidity" and "dignified 'mute icons' offering 'the only kind of beauty we find acceptable today.”

To end: if one day you are in the Houston area, don’t forget to visit the chapel! It’s a unique experience, entrance is free and it’s cool inside. Something you’ll appreciate in Houston.

For the stubborn not Rothko lovers: the Menil Collection is a short walk away and for those who also hate going to a museum, The Bistro Menil serves some very good wines. The Houston Center for Photography is one block away.

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