Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Houston - The Rothko Chapel and Menil Collection

The Rothko Chapel was on my "want to see" list during my Houston visit. There is a subtlety to his work that has always appealed and spoken to me.

We park in the shade of a tree lined street. There is a reflecting pool outside the chapel in which sits a weathered metal sculpture dedicated to Martin Luther King. The chapel inspires reverence and quiet reflection. It's Philip Johnson design contains no artificial light. The illumination, provided only by the large skylight in the middle of the room, in muted by the metal fixture suspended from it. Around it's edges and through the circular opening in it's center the sun's rays shine through. Large, typically dark works by Rothko hang on the four walls. As I stand in the center of the room, a cloud drifts overhead. The light in the room dims, then brightens again as the cloud passes on. We depart quietly, careful not to disturb the spell the room has the ability to cast.

Light is also important in the nearby structure houseing th Menil collection. A series of louvered ceiling panels shift to regulate the light that flows into the galleries. Before the building stand several crepe myrtles. The vibrant and beautiful colors of their flowers have become almost synonomus with Houston in my mind.

The collection rotates but on this day holds a wealth of works by Max Ernst, a full gallery of the brilliant surrealist Magritte as well as Warhol, Raushenberg and 3 works by Jasper Johns that I have previously viewed at a special exhibition at Chicago's Art Insititute. There are also several Rothkos, works he created as alternatives to those housed in the chapel. We are told that the founder of the collection, which is primarily her private one which she gifted to the city of Houston, had close relationships with several of these artists. My host notices that the works by Johns and Rausenberg are hung in the same gallery which he states is appropriate because they too had a"close relationship" with each other ....if you get my drift.

The collection of antiquities has pieces dating back 5000 years. I'm certain that today these treasures would not be allowed to leave their countries of origin.

The donation of these works to the city is an outstanding example of generosity to and love by Dominique de Menil for the city of Houston. I felt, during my visit, that her philanthropy is equally cherished by the people of the city.

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