Commissioned by Dominique and John de Menil (also founders of the Menil Collection) in 1964 to create a nondenominational chapel, American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (1903–70) devoted the final years of his life to the project. The octagonal brick structure now holds 14 large Rothko canvases. The architects of the building were Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry.
The Menils wanted to give a great artist the opportunity to create a spiritual place without any restrictions or ties to existing religions. The chapel receives over 100,000 visitors a year and is the home of the Óscar Romero Award – a biennial award that recognises courageous advocates of human rights. It's named after Archbishop Óscar Romero who was murdered in 1980 after continually speaking out against injustice in his home country of El Salvador.
Why are there paintings inside the chapel?
At first glance the paintings seem an almost uniform black. The longer you spend in this supremely meditative space, however, the more subtleties appear, and just as Rothko intended, many visitors experience a profoundly emotional reaction. Rothko wanted visitors to have a calm, contemplative, spiritual experience by creating a space that didn't overload the senses, but rather encouraged quiet reflection and introspection.
Barnett Newman's sculpture 'Broken Obelisk' is located outside the chapel and the de Menils dedicated it to the memory and work of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The dramatic sculpture looms above a reflecting pool in the grounds of the Rothko Chapel. The sculpture was originally financed by the de Menils and the city of Houston and was intended to sit outside City Hall. However, when the city of Houston refused to dedicate the sculpture to the recently assassinated Dr King as agreed, the de Menils bought it outright and placed it in its current location with the intended dedication intact.
How much is it?
The chapel and its grounds are free to enter and are open from dawn until dusk. The chapel and the Welcome House are closed on Mondays.
Can you get married there?
Private services, including weddings, are available to book within the chapel for a fee. The chapel itself is nondenominational but has hosted weddings, bar mitzvahs, baptisms, memorials and other major life events in the past. Photography and video is not permitted within the chapel but is permitted in the grounds.