On Friday morning, security at the Rothko Chapel in Houston surveyed the grounds and found what the director of the world-class Texas institution, founded by the collectors John and Dominique de Menil, called a “hate incident.” Security discovered white paint near the entrance of the chapel, along with handbills that said “It’s okay to be white” scattered around the octagonal space, and the Barnett Newman sculpture installed in front of it.
David Leslie, the director, told the Houston Chronicle that rather than hide the hateful act from visitors while the paint was being cleaned up, the docents were open with museumgoers in a way that could continue to honor Martin Luther King, Jr, to whom Newman dedicated his sculpture The Broken Obelisk (1963-1969). “We wanted to continue to engage with neighbors and visitors,” Leslie said. “Our first response was to get open again as quickly as possible and not allow something like this to mute our message, mute our accessibility.”
The Rothko Chapel—which was designed by Mark Rothko as a place for peace and introspection, and contains 14 works commissioned by the de Menils six years before his death—is next door to the Menil Collection, the institution that houses the collection of the late Houston couple. The pair used their oil fortune to assemble one of the greatest art collections in Texas history and promote civil rights in an increasingly divided city. They supported a fundraiser for Dr. King in 1967, and when, more than a decade later, a racist spray painted “White Power” and a swastika on the base of Newman’s obelisk, there were peaceful demonstrations, and Dominique said that the vandalism should remain as a “badge of honor.”