#3965 - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - Editor: Gloria Lee
- In the Tower: Mark Rothko, an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, re-creates the setting of the Rothko Chapel in Houston. My first thought upon entering it yesterday was that if nonduality had a chapel, this would be it. No doubt it would have been better to have "no thought", but it takes a bit of time there to to let the feeling of the place wash over you, and wash away everything else. Minimalist music composed for the Chapel is playing, and one is enclosed by these massive black paintings on white walls. While the brochure says, "...what he sought in the realm of black was an 'inner light,' a Matissean radiance equal to the that of an intense field of color." Matisse once said that he "began to use pure black as a color of light and not as a color of darkness." It also suggests that observing the slight differences in reflectivity or sheen, black becomes light. "We invite you to question the simple equation of darkness and despair and to re-imagine blackness as a medium of light --nuanced, expansive, and even hopeful." Hmmm, maybe, maybe not. No one suggests perhaps it encompasses both or is everything and nothing at once.While it may be helpful to point people beyond the obvious trite and easy conclusions, I found nearly all the reviews online to be similar, pathetic attempts to cheer up and find some silver lining in the assumed despair portrayed by these shades of black. Perhaps if one had an understanding of nonduality, a better understanding might emerge. One needs to take off the art critic hat, to stop talking about meaning, to sit and simply be with these canvases, to get lost in the infinite depths that have no end. Because this is a black that transcends all notions of darkness and light. This is Bodhidarma staring at a wall forever.There is a Rothko video which has Morton Feldman's music which plays there. The Rothko artworks in the video have color and are not there, so if you listen to it with earphones and eyes closed it may come closer to the experience of the chapel.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHd5NVfG1FY&feature=related some views inside chapel
Also, found an artist's blog that gives a better feel for the place than the art critic reviews.In addition to the rough hewn benches, the floor of the chapel was strewn with small mats with little round pillows in the middle -- obviously to accommodate lotus sitters, but very distracting interruptions of the space. Their presence made me think about the dichotomy between the paintings, and the space as a "chapel" in which the paintings exist as part of a devotional or meditative environment. Of course the idea of the chapel came first, and the paintings were conceived specifically for that context, both in terms of physicality and content -- just as Rothko was chosen for the project presumably because of the compatibility between his work and the idea of the chapel. But to my mind, the paintings have outlived the original context -- like the Giottos in the Arena Chapel or the Caravaggios in San Luigi -- their sustained importance as paintings has rendered their ecumenical role quaint if not obsolete. The notion of attaching religiosity to Rothko's paintings is a warm and fuzzy product of a past era, and is in reality diametrically opposed to the utter anarchy of the works themselves. These paintings declare a reality of vastness and flux in which any notion of certainty, any doctrine or dogma is patently absurd. [...]Back in the early '70s when the Rothko Chapel opened, I made the trip to see it -- and ponder it. Since then, Ive been there dozens of times; and each and every time its a different experience. These are among the most enigmatic paintings ever made. Their appearance is constantly altered by the changing light in the chapel on cloudy days, they look so dark and brooding that you can hardly focus on them when the sun is bright, they radiate variations of a deep wine red/black, and the surfaces are alive with touch. My feelings about these paintings have vacillated from visit to visit. Initially, I was blown away by their sheer presence at other times I have felt that they are overwrought or ungiving but they always insisted on continued dialogue. Over the past fifteen years or so, I have come to regard these paintings as THE defining achievement of the post-WWII generation, and as the single most uncompromising statement in Modern (or contemporary) painting.In addition, the minimalist music composed by Morton Feldman to be played at the Chapel can be found here:Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.