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U.S.A.: Rothko Chapel

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Rothko Chapel | U.S.A. | Americas

[Visited: January 2011]

The streets were virtually deserted on that first day of the year. A sunny day, and a good moment to take some time to think about the future. I was headed to Rothko Chapel, and had no clue what I should look out for. I followed a big street, until I knew I had to turn left. I entered a quiet neighbourhood, where I seemed to be the only person out on the street. There were decorations on the doors of the houses; reminders that Christmas had just been celebrated here. When I finally reached a small square with higher trees, my intuition told me that I had arrived. Sure enough, I saw a small octagonal building. In front, a small pool with artwork inside. I had arrived at Rothko Chapel, established in 1971 by the de Menils philanthropists. Rothko Chapel is intended as a place where religions are regarded equally, where there is room to strive for the advancement of human rights, freedom, and truth throughout the world. A neutral place for everyone.

Picture of Rothko Chapel (U.S.A.): Side view of Rothko Chapel with a barren tree

First, I walked around the pool to take in the Broken Obelisk from all sides. Placed directly in the pool, and surrounded by bamboo, this sculpture by Barnett Newman was reflected perfectly in the water, even though there was quite a strong wind outside. The obelisk structure, without the typical top that would make it more readily recognizable as such, somehow seemed to make the water of the shallow pool infinitely deep and managed to provoke quiet thoughts. After spending some time here, I proceeded to the black, massive doors of Rothko Chapel itself. A sign on the left hand wall informed me that I was entering a technology-free area, and a cheerful lady greeted me inside, inviting me to fill out the guestbook of the chapel. I found holy books of all main religions here, as well as other books with universal value. Where the peaceful surroundings of the outside of Rothko Chapel already provided for a relaxing atmosphere, stepping into the chapel itself was like stepping into an oasis of silence. Four groups of two benches were placed square-like in the octagonal room, with a pillow right in the middle, and two more outside the centre for whoever wanted to meditate.

Picture of Rothko Chapel (U.S.A.): Reflection of broken obelisk with Rothko Chapel in the background

At first, I thought the light coming from the ceiling was artificial light, but I then realized that it was actually sunlight indirectly entering the hall. Most notably, of course, were the 14 paintings by Mark Rothko on the walls: minimalistic, deep purple and black paintings giving a serene atmosphere to the main hall. I sat down on a bench, closed my eyes, and let the silence of the room envelope me. My thoughts first went back to the year before, and then to the new year that had just started. The tranquility of the place quickly took me. At one point, I somehow felt I had to leave, even though I could have stayed for a much longer time. Since the woman guarding the central room had been sending text messages with her phone, I felt it could not be a problem to take a picture of the interior before leaving Rothko Chapel. Once outside, a noisy group of people was on its way in, and I was happy to have left just in time.

Picture of Rothko Chapel (U.S.A.): Interior of Rothko Chapel with the paintings of Rothko on the wall
Picture of Rothko Chapel (U.S.A.): Broken obelisk in reflecting pool with bamboo in the background
Picture of Rothko Chapel (U.S.A.): Entrance of Rothko Chapel

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