What one writer learned about art and spirituality on my pilgrimage to Texas

By Jonathan Malesic
Austin by Ellsworth Kelly
On a sunny Saturday afternoon inside “Austin,” the limestone-clad building designed by the artist Ellsworth Kelly, a young woman walks up to an arc of lime-green light that is cast through a narrow stained-glass window and onto the floor.“Austin” has all the trappings of a chapel, but it has no official religious function. The light is everything in “Austin.” It is a Romanesque church stripped down to its barest aesthetic essentials—a temple to aesthetic joy that provokes questions about how we experience art and spirituality today. The Rothko Chapel seems like the near-opposite of “Austin.” If Kelly’s free play of light pushes visitors toward exuberant visual pleasure, then the 14 Mark Rothko canvases inside the chapel favor the negative way: a mystical, solitary spirituality of withdrawal. Still, you cannot find yourself within the paintings. They reflect nothing of what you bring to them. [More]

This article also appeared in print, under the headline "On pilgrimage in Texas, in search of light and color," in the July 9, 2018 issue.
The Rothko Chapel