What is Rothko’s Chapel in Houston all about?

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, photo Judith Kurnick
Mark Rothko – Interior of Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas
Photo: Judith Kurnick/artsy.net

History of the Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel has been providing a space for people in need of spiritual guidance and meditation since it was established back in 1971. The Rothko Chapel was founded and dedicated as an intimate sanctuary that was open for anyone of any religious or spiritual belief by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John De Menil1.

What inspired the construction of the chapel?

The Menils, who were well-known Catholics, were inspired to establish the chapel after they received advice from a friend known as Rev Marie-Alain Couturier, who believed that modern artists could revive forgotten sacred art. The Rothko Chapel sits next to the campus of the Menil collection2 and has been open to the public almost every day since it was established.

Since it was opened by two founders, the chapel has hosted world leaders and people from all walks of life in its halls. The Rothko Chapel has and will always be an epicenter for civil rights activists and the more than 10,000 people from all over the world that visit the chapel grounds each year.

Rothko Chapel exterior with Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman at the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel exterior with Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman at the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas
Photo: Hickey Robertson/rothkochapel.org

What can be see in the chapel?

There is plenty to see and do while at the chapel. The interior contains 14 murals that have been created by renowned artists such as Howard Barnstone, Phil Johnson, Eugene Aubry, and of course, Mark Rothko himself. The Rothko Chapel is also the official home of the Oscar Romero Award, which recognizes courageous grassroots work relating to human rights advocacy.

Rothko’s role in making the chapel what it is today

Although a number of artists and architects have helped to shape the reputation of the chapel, Mark Rothko played an invaluable role in ensuring that the chapel was well known in the local community and consequently in the globe. It is because of Mark’s efforts that the chapel was designed in the shape of an octagon inscribed in a Greek cross. Some of Rothko’s art that is still on display in the chapel includes 3 triptychs on one wall and 5 other walls display single Rothko murals.

Mark Rothko portrait
Mark Rothko portrait

Rothko’s paintings

At the beginning of 1964, Rothko started painting a number of black paintings containing dark hues and texture effects. The hues of the black paintings vary depending on the light intensity of that day so the paintings are different for every visitor that experiences them. According to Rothko, the subject of most of his dark paintings was human emotions expressed in the different color values that Rothko developed from layered pigments.

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior 3
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, photo by Christian Heeb
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior
Photo: Christian Heeb/medium.com

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior

The effect of his paintings

The end result of his paintings is a deep, provocative and charged feeling that forces audiences to examine their emotions in turn. Because of their simplicity and beauty, Rothko’s paintings at the chapel have been known to move people to the point of tears, which speaks to the artist’s talent.

Location of the chapel in Houston


1409 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006, USA
+1 713-524-9839

Hours

The Chapel is generally open every day of the year from 10 am – 6 pm. On occasion, it closes to the general public for programs and private services. Please check today’s hours and calendar before your visit.

Parking

Free street parking is available on Yupon, Branard, and Sul Ross streets around the Chapel. Visitors of the chapel are also welcome to use the Menil Collection parking lot located at the intersection of Mulberry and West Alabama streets. The Moran Parking Garage at the intersection of Graustark and West Alabama streets on the campus of the University of St. Thomas is also available for parking for $5 per car.

Phone

713 524 9839

Free admission

Photos: Inside the chapel

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior
Photo: G. E. Kidder Smith/dome.mit.edu

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, 1971, Hickey Robertson
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, 1971
Photo: Hickey Robertson/rothkochapel.org

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, A Time Of Prayer, 1978, Photo by David Crossley
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, 1978
Photo: David Crossley/rothkochapel.org

Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, Eid Al Adha, 1972, photo Hickey Robertson
Mark Rothko – Rothko Chapel interior, Eid Al Adha, 1972
Photo: Hickey Robertson/rothkochapel.org

All images by Rothko Chapel/rothkochapel.org unless otherwise noted.

Video: Mark Rothko in Houston

5min 39sec

Related readings

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_de_Menil
  2. https://www.menil.org/
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