Rothko Chapel

A place for contemplation, reflection and meditation. Rothko chapel belongs to everyone, and no one.

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Triptych by Mark Rothko.
A place for contemplation, reflection and meditation. Rothko chapel belongs to everyone, and no one.

The abstract expressionist Mark Rothko painted vivid colors. Huge blocks of color that drew the viewer into the paintings. He wanted to express “basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom … “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them” he said. Throughout the fifties his career bloomed and in 1958 he received a commission to paint four murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. Then something happened. From painting colors that seemed lit from within, vibrating with emotion, he abandoned the bright colors and started painting dark monochromes. Mostly black, layered with subdued hues that seem to draw you into a solid darkness.

In 1964 Mark Rothko received yet another commission. Art collectors John and Dominique de Menil wanted him to design the building and paint the artwork for a new chapel in Houston, Texas. Their vision was a chapel for all religions, and none. A place for contemplation, reflection and meditation. A chapel that belonged to everyone, and no one. Mark Rothko choose the octagon shape for the structure and stayed involved in the work  throughout the construction. In fact, he replaced several of the architects working on the project because they did not agree with his vision. Mark Rothko did not live to see the final version though. In 1970 he committed suicide.

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Rothko Chapel exterior.
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Rothko Chapel is designed as an octagon.

The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.

Mark Rothko

Inside Rothko Chapel, that finally opened in 1971, fourteen of Mark Rothko´ s paintings are displayed. A few triptychs and the rest singles, they are all in different versions of black, subtly drawn towards purple, blue, brown and grey. Rothko Chapel has become a center for art, performances and is also linked to human rights and other political campaigns. 

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Rothko Chapel interior.
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Tilda Swinton at Rothko Chapel by Tim Walker.

Tilda Swinton, dressed in a Valentino Haute Couture gown, was photographed in the Rothko Chapel by Tim Walker for W Magazine. Tim Walker captured a surreal atmosphere with Tilda Swinton standing in front of one of Mark Rothko´s dark murals in her crisp, white dress. All the proceedings of this artwork were donated to benefit Rothko Chapel.

Tilda Swinton received the Rothko Chapel Visionary Award in 2014 and at the award ceremony she said; “The Rothko Chapel is a sacred space because of precisely this capacity it has to re-bind, to re-balance, to re-store, to re-inspire the spirit in its simple and essential gesture of darkness held in light. Of art held in spirit. Of spirit held in life and the living of life. It is a truly humane space for humans to find themselves in. Glamour is a word derived from the Scots, meaning ‘dangerous magic.’ The Rothko Chapel is glamorous beyond any glamour known to any Highland witch. It is a light that never goes out.”

Barnett Newman’s sculpture Broken Obelisk stands outside Rothko Chapel in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.