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First Look: Rothko Chapel

After an 18-month, $1.8 million restoration, the Rothko Chapel in Houston finally reopened in June. Fourteen monumental plum canvases and black-form paintings by Mark Rothko cover every wall in the octagonal structure. The works, painted in 1965 and 1966, were commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil to create a cool, quiet, meditative ecumenical chapel. Rothko, known for his moody Abstract Expressionism, called these his "dark pictures," but here they are illuminated by shifting daylight through a center skylight. The chapel opened in 1971, but as it turned out, great art painted in a New York studio made for an uneasy Texas resident—the space, intended for tranquillity, could make peace with neither its site nor Houston's heat and humidity. The structure sank, cracks developed, and the paintings were harmed by the relentless Texas sun and the appearance of a mysterious white film. Today, that's all been fixed. Rothko's meticulously restored canvases hang on resurfaced gray walls, flattered by subdued sunlight from the redesigned skylight with special ultraviolet glass, and invite you to plumb their depths on the spiritual journey of your choice. 1409 Sul Ross St., Houston; 713/524-9839; open 10-6 daily.

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