The Rothko Chapel, a non-denominational devotional space in Houston, Texas, is home to fourteen dark canvases by Mark Rothko. Visitors come to the chapel for all sorts of reasons– from memorializing the artist to spending time with the paintings to simple meditation in a beautiful space. Check out this NPR piece for a few of the stories of the Rothko Chapel.
The segment from All Things Considered gives an introduction to the Rothko Chapel and notes that the site receives over 55,000 visitors a year. Historian and sometime-attendant Suna Umari describes that mammoth guest book that records some of the comments and notes left by some of the visitors. A few are regular devotees of the Chapel: in a beautiful anecdote, a certain couple returns ever six months:
The first time I saw them, they must have had a fight, because she came in and sat down; then he followed,” Umari says. “He sat next to her, and she ignored him. She kept turning her head away from him. They whispered to each other, and pretty soon they made up.”… When the couple came out to the foyer, the man wrote a declaration of his love in the comment book — he used a whole page. The woman wrote that she loved him back.
Even the artist’s son, Christopher Rothko, was surprised by the Chapel. At first the paintings didn’t quite reveal themselves to him, Christopher says, but then he found himself an hour later still entranced. The Chapel is a “holy space” to others; it started Susan Barnes, author of a book on the space, on a journey that would lead to a ministry in the Episcopal church.
The whole story is a testament to art’s ability to provide an environment unlike any other– space in which to meditate, think, be inspired, change your life. I think we’ve all had these kinds of experiences with works of art, but it seems like the Rothko Chapel has a particular power over its attendees. I’d love to visit.