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man’s treasures, to be enjoyed at all times. Its simple beauty to be felt by all. The pyramid is symbolic of security and determination and the upward thrust and sudden break remind us that dramatic interruptions are part of life,” Dominique de Menil said at the dedication. The sculpture is a pyramid of cor-ten steel upon which is balanced a rectangular shaft abruptly sliced off in irregular chops at an angle across the top. Unpainted, its natural steel surface has picked up an orange-rust finish. Newman specified that the piece be scraped before its journey to Houston so that it could pick up a finish born of its new environment. In the daytime the piece, which is 26 feet high, is a strong monolith. At night, lit from below, it glows like a burning ember, its image reflected a second time in the quiet waters of the reflecting pool. THE EVENTS leading up to the dedication are complex and confusing. The de Menils had close knowledge of the Matisse Chapel in Vence, France and Leger’s contributions to the chapel in Audincourt, also in France, and they had visited the site where Corbusier was to build his church. Enormously impressed with the “Four Seasons” murals which Rothko was doing for the Seagram’s Building in New York, they commissioned him to do a series of murals for the proposed chapel in Houston. He accepted. At a given point, Rothko refused to relinquish the Four Seasons paintings to the restaurant. “He decided that this series of canvases, on which he had spent so much labor and emotion, amounted to a good deal more than a malicious gesture to rich gourmands and deserved a better setting than a fashionable dining room,” wrote John Fischer in Harper’s in July of 1970. According to Robert Goldwater, Rothko’s friend and biographer, in a Art in America, these early murals now hang in the Tate Gallery in London. Part of the confusion as to whether these are the same paintings may stem in part from a written conversation about the Four Seasons murals in the same Harper’s article in which Fischer states, “Not long before his death he arranged for them to be hung in a building created especially for them a non-denominational chapel in Houston, built to his specifications and commissioned by the de Menil family.” This is either an unfortunate confusion in an otherwise sensitive and perceptive article or it may be true. The statements in the de Menils own press information would seem to compound the confusion: “In 1967, Rothko set to work painting the 14 panels which now belong to Houston’s Institute of, Religion and Human Development,” and, “For several years before his death in February of 1970, Rothko worked on the 14 The Texas Observer series of panels commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil.” That Rothko worked on them passionately for at least three years I certainly believe. That they are not the Four Seasons paintings also would seem true. But it would appear that the paintings were completed some time, before his illness in 1968. I cite two statements which lead me to that conclusion. First, critic Katherine Kuh, writing about St. Thomas University in The Saturday Review of August 31, 1968, referred to “A commission to which [Rothko] devoted The de Menirs Houston John and Dominique de Menil, whom Houston Chronicle critic Ann Holmes has termed “a law unto themselves,” have also been the center of much controversy. In 1968 they removed their financial support and interest from the University of St. Thomas, where Mrs. de Menil had been head of the Art History Department since 1964. She took staff and a renowned teaching collection to Rice University to begin anew. Intensely involved and utilizing a thoroughness that amounted to fanaticism in evolving a department and a collection, the de Menils had come to a falling out with the Basilian Fathers at St. Thomas. As a result of the move, which took place in 1968, Mrs. de Menil is now Director of the Institute for the Arts at Rice University, in Houston. John de Menil is a former chairman of the board of Schlumberger Ltd., and is on the boards of the Museum of Modern Art and of the Museum of Primitive Art in New York. nearly three years and the most passionate concentration of his life.” That would appear to make the beginning date somewhere in 1965. Secondly, Robert Goldwater, again in the recent Art in America article states “The murals for the Houston Chapel had already been completed, but the several panels that remained in his studio inhibited Rothko’s disengagement [from the emotional abyss into which he had fallen after his illness] . The scale of that project, the long effort of unity and intensity of feeling it embodied and its specifically religious purpose were such that there had to be a break before he could begin afresh. . Rothko resumed work in the summer of 1968.” THE NEWMAN OBELISK is also the object of controversy. Its saga began in 1967 when the National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities bestowed upon the City of Houston a $45,000 matching fund grant for the purchase of a sculpture. After lengthy debates they virtually let the grant run out. At this point John de Menil stepped in, offered to put up the balance of the money and set up three stipulations: that Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk” be purchased with the money, that it be dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King and that it be inscribed with the words “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” The city council was negative, apparently for three reasons: they probably had no concept of the importance of the work, they undoubtedly did not want a memorial to a black man in front of the city hall and they were afraid that the inscription would be applied to them. One councilman, Johnny Goyen, as reported in The Houston Chronicle, said that “He did not understand the significance of the inscription.” Another enlightened councilman Lee McLemore, also quoted in the Chronicle said, “The sculpture could be located in a better place than in front of the city hall . . . people who come down here don’t understand these arty objects. We would be better off with a nice drinking fountain out there ” The grant ran out. At this point John de Menil purchased the work for $90,000 for the Institute of Religion and Human Development and made plans to install it in front of the Rothko chapel complete with inscription. Strangely enough, Barnett Newman, too, 5ad also created 14 large murals. Entitled “The Fourteen Stations of the Cross,” they were finished in 1966 and exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in the same year. In Secular Art with Religious Themes, Jane Dillenberger states “Once the scheme of the total cycle of painting had become a part of his conscious intention, Newman associated a specific biblical passage with the entire cycle the words of Jesus at the ninth hour when he cried, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” It is perhaps because of this that John de Menil decided to utilize Jesus’ poignant words “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” as an inscription for the Newman sculpture. In the end, of course, it matters little what controversies have raged behind the scenes. What is important is that the chapel and the sculpture stand as important monuments, not only to man and his God or gods, but to the genius of the men who created them, and to the generosity of two remarkable, if controversial, twentieth century patrons of the arts John and Dominique de Menil. From a letter by Michael Steele, critic for The Minneapolis Tribune: “The Greening of America is a Consciousness II book.”