This past summer I took an Art class where we discussed several modern artists. One of these was Mark Rothko and our teacher mentioned that his famous gallery was in Houston, the Rothko Chapel. I made a mental note to myself that next time I was in Houston I would check it out. Fast forward a few months and I am in Houston with my very pregnant daughter, waiting for the birth of a new grandbaby. We had time to kill and we needed to walk—and walk and walk! So we decided now was the time to go to the Rothko. She called a friend and we all headed downtown to the Museum District.
In the back of my head, I remembered the words of my teacher telling us that modern art is more about what you bring to the experience than what the artist is showing you. Modern art is most often a reflection of where you are in life. True art often unsettles us and makes us uncomfortable. Walking up to the Rothko Chapel, I had no idea how true this was going to be. In the foyer, we signed the guest book and glanced at the scriptures from all the world’s religious traditions on a bench by the door. Lowering our voices, we went into the chapel where we were greeted by 15 large paintings—all black and also a grim looking hostess—also completely dressed in a black suit with her hair pulled tightly in a bun (think the principal in Matilda here).
Within seconds the commotion began. My three year old grandson, James, jumped out of his stroller causing it to tip and spill the content of Jessica’s diaper bag, including her half filled water bottle onto the concrete floor. “That is why we do not allow drinks into the Rothko,” the hostess hissed. I grabbed James hand while I quickly tried to take in the large black paintings in the windowless room. Jessica grabbed some paper towels and a day before delivery dropped to her knees and began mopping up the floor—counting her blessings that it wasn’t her water that had just broken in the Rothko man cave. Her friend grabbed her daughter and as quickly as we entered, we exited. Standing under the noontime sun and over-arching trees, the tension broke and we began to laugh…and then we went to the park!
Sitting on a bench, watching young mothers helping their children swing and feeling the sun on my face, I realized, once again, that darkness whether it is in the universe, a room, a painting or a hostess is simply the absence of light—and in this case color. Darkness absorbs light. Mark Rothko was a very troubled soul who eventually committed suicide. Very briefly, facing myself in those black paintings, I knew that I would not find God in dark, windowless chapels, devoid of children, surrounded by dusty closed canons and I cannot find myself either. For me, god exists in wide-open spaces, with colorful skies as a ceiling and mountain peaks as the walls and always there must be water flowing freely—bringing forth new life. The experience was a gentle reminder that we can all reflect light and in my daughters words as she stood up from cleaning the floor, “no one ever wants to be made to feel less than.” All in all, a very productive “day at the museum.”