Ahh, Houston. After sleeping well in my $26 hotel room, I got up and drove to Rothko Chapel. It was only supposed to be about a 20-minute drive, and soon enough Allie’s (another grad student at UMass-D) GPS told me, “You have arrived at your destination.” I didn’t see anything. I’d spent 10 of those 20 minutes driving across extremely bumpy residential streets. Maybe Mr. GPS man was just tired of having his suction cup be jostled off the windshield (which invariably caused me to lurch to catch him, cursing), and he just decided to pretend I was there? I disregarded his “advice.” After driving another block like I was someone’s blind great great great grandma, and I saw an open space with an orderly bamboo fence surrounding a large sculpture (Broken Obelisk, by Barnett Newman). Behind it was a small brick building with no windows.
This was Rothko Chapel. I went in and promptly got in trouble for laying down on a bench so I could see the ceiling better (like Turrell’s skyspace at the Nasher, it had an opening). I felt like a loser until an older gentleman, entering a few minutes after me, attempted the same feat and was also mightily shot down. The chapel was tranquil but it was strange – it was like looking at a calm stretch of water that has a treacherous hidden current. I’m not sure if this was due to the darkness of the paintings, floor, benches, and ceiling, or because of the weirdly menacing machinery sounds throbbing in the background, but I didn’t exactly feel like spending eons there.
After leaving Rothko Chapel, I got in my car and started driving away, towards the Houston MFA. However, I spotted my fellow troublemaker and his wife, who had left the chapel a few minutes ahead of me, walking into a plain, blue building a few blocks from the chapel’s site. I decided to park on the street and then follow them. The first was a bad decision ($40 ticket!) but the following part, although potentially creeper-ish, was a wise choice. It turned out that that plain building housed the main part of the Menil Collection. Never having heard of it before, I walked up to the lady guarding the entrance desk and asked, “What is this place?”
She gave me some brochures – apparently the collection is housed in several buildings across an area of a few square blocks. I ended up going to see all of it. It’s pretty amazing how much art one couple can collect! Although, I suppose some of it has been purchased by their foundation since their deaths as well.
After leaving, parking ticket in hand, I went to the MFA, where I saw so many things that I became overwhelmed. I got in trouble again too. I leaned my head too far over the “edge” in the James Turrell walkway. Which, to be completely honest with you, was not much to write home about. It didn’t really do anything for me. It felt a little bit forced for some reason.
I did like his Live Oak Friends Quaker Meeting House, though. It was a very nice experience; a great way to end a busy, input-filled day. As a bonus: You can lay down on the floor and benches there if you want to and nobody yells at you.