PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston October 2020

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61 long time without comment. Eventually, the nervous painter broke the silence by saying, "Anything more would be less." Although Rothko completed the paintings in 1967, he died in the winter of 1970 before the Chapel opened, so he never had a chance to see his monumental canvases within the finished building he helped design. In early 1974, a flat extent of fabric scrim with a small oculus in the center was stretched from the eight interior Chapel walls, parallel to the floor, in an attempt to mimic the filtered daylighting of Rothko's NYC studio. This scrim was new the first time I visited the Chapel in 1974, and not knowing the history of the building or original skylight design, the lighting within the Chapel appeared to illuminate the paintings somewhat uniformly. Unfortunately, the scrim was not only inadequate to prevent further degradation of the delicate paintings, but it also didn't create the desired sacred milieu. In 1975, a little more than a year after the scrim was installed, Mrs. de Menil and Aubry, once a partner with Barnstone and now a senior design partner of S.I. Morris Associates, began to conceive of a light baffle as an alternative to the scrim. I was working in the office of S.I. Morris Associates in 1976 and was recruited by Aubry to help with a full-size foam core maquette of the new light-deflecting baffle, installing it on site in the presence of Dominique de Menil, to receive her approval to move ahead. The octagonal-shaped model was temporarily attached to the ceiling of the Chapel with pulleys and small ropes. S.I. Morris employees helped hoist the surprisingly heavy foam-core model up and down under Mrs. de Menil supervision. After each positioning, she would head outside into the bright sunny day then return back into the darkened interior of the Chapel. Every time she reentered, she would walk around the perimeter of the Chapel, viewing the paintings while waiting for her eyes to adjust to the subdued interior light level. After trying several positionings, Mrs. de Menil at last instructed us to tie off the ropes and take measurements of the final placement. It seemed that she had ONLINE Thomas Woltz's newly imagined grounds at Rothko Chapel are spiritual and sheltering. Landscape architect Thomas Woltz' new design for the grounds at Rothko Chapel was inspired by a moving experience he had while visiting the Chapel with a friend many years ago. found her "night to dawn" transition. This encounter with Mrs. de Menil endeared me to her and the Chapel from then forward. On my Sunday afternoon strolls through the Museum District, I would see and speak to her many times at The Menil Collection where she sat at the front desk, looking through the comments book. Once the finished light baffle was installed, many visitors thought the Chapel too dark, making the paintings look black. Of course, these visitors had no knowledge of Dominique de Menil's philosophy of the relationship of art and the Divine. I often made weekly visits to the Chapel, and, while sitting and meditating, I watched visitors walk around the paintings then, seemingly unimpressed, walk out. Maybe they were expecting to see a collection of the artist's known color-field paintings. I think their impatience made them miss the absolute magic of the effect of the light on the pigments in the paintings. Had they waited awhile for their eyes to adjust to the subdued light level, maybe they would have experienced the paintings as Rothko and Mrs. de Menil had hoped. After 2000, when the original light baffle was revised and installed, I rarely visited the Chapel because there was too much natural light, which compromised my personal experience. This newest baffle, while allowing more daylight into the Chapel, brought out the colors in the paintings more quickly; once again, the lighting solution had an adverse effect on the paint mix and diminished the sanctuary as a sacred place. The extensive recent renovations and the addition of the Suzanne Deal Booth Welcome House, begun in the Spring of 2019, completed this summer and reopened several weeks ago, are an attempt to resolve not only the Chapel lighting but also the concept of the space as a sacred experience, while moving visitor functions to a separate, designated building. I have hopes that the new ceiling and lighting design will come close to Mrs. de Menil and Rothko's original idea for the illumination of the paintings, leading to an eternal, transcendental encounter within the sanctuary. Personally, I feel that most visitors forget that the space is more than an art gallery or museum — it is foremost a chapel. PhotograPher henry elkan, © 2013 kate rothko Prizel and ChristoPher rothko. all rothko ChaPel images © Paul hester. Mark Rothko, circa 1952- 1953 Rothko Chapel Plaza with Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk, dedicated 1971 Suzanne Deal Booth Welcome House

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