Rothko Chapel: Art, Meditation & Reverence

View of the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas (photo by Hickey-Robertson, courtesy o
View of the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas (photo by Hickey-Robertson, courtesy of the Menil Collection and the Rothko Chapel)

John Seed writes about the trend toward "slow looking" he observed recently at the exhibition Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park at the Orange County Museum of Art and traces its roots to the Rothko Chapel commission. 

Seed writes that at the Diebenkorn show he had "noticed that the galleries were unusually hushed, and that people were taking their time, lingering in front of the paintings. Slow looking, rather like the intense scrutiny a painter might give his or her own work during the course of its creation, was very much in evidence... Diebenkorn's large abstractions caused some to use seeing as a way to access another kind of experience. More than a few visitors wanted to meditate on the paintings; to use their inspections of the art as a means to turn inward towards both the personal and the spiritual."

Seed continues, noting that this type of looking experience is most famously fostered at the Rothko Chapel where Mark Rothko was "commissioned by the de Menils to create paintings for the chapel because they saw his work as reaching towards a modern, universal religiosity. Dominique de Menil felt strongly that '...real creators, always working at the edge of their perceptions, may reach spiritual regions bordering on the sacred.'She also held the conviction that Rothko's works represented a 'search for the infinite,' one that had emerged from 'dark and silence.' "