Society / Featured Parties

Rothko Chapel’s Magical Revamp Picks Up Steam as Houston’s Sacred Space Approaches its 50th Birthday

Ultimate Art Party Honors a Civil Rights Leader and New York Power Couple

BY // 08.30.19
photography Jenny Antill Clifton

As we edge towards another over-the-top social season this fall, we look back at our favorite art party so far in 2019.

When an art-world pilgrimage site that’s also a beacon for human rights edges towards the half-century mark, the occasion calls for une grande fête. So it was when the Rothko Chapel held a gala — only the fourth ever in its 48-year history — at The Astorian.

Three power chair couples — Melanie Lawson and John Guess Jr., Nancy and Erik Littlejohn, and Tatiana and Craig Massey — contributed to the deconstructed black-tie night, which was appropriately titled Illumination.

The gala honored three leaders in art and activism: Houston’s Reverend William Lawson, a trailblazer in the Civil Rights movement and founding pastor emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, and Ballroom Marfa co-founder Fairfax Dorn and husband Marc Glimcher of Pace Gallery renown, both in from New York.

The gathering, which was emblematic of Rothko Chapel founders Dominique and John de Menil, coincided with the Rothko’s milestone Opening Spaces campaign. As outlined in remarks by Mark Rothko’s son, Christopher Rothko — the keeper of his father’s legacy, in from Manhattan — the ambitious project restores and updates the sacred space; adjusts lighting levels on the vaporous, mystical suite of canvases by the late American master painter Mark Rothko; features new greenscapes by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects; and adds a visitor center.

More than 350 guests savored this joyful salute to the Chapel’s future. Cocktails segued into a seated dinner by A Fare Extraordinaire, and a finale set to an avant-garde performance by Austin-based composer and bandleader Graham Reynolds.

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The bottom line — $330,000 towards the next chapter of the Chapel — sets the stage for its 50th anniversary commemorations, come 2021. (Stay tuned for the reopening of the Rothko Chapel in early 2020.)

Painting the Town

Chapel ambassadress and honorary chair Lynn Wyatt (stunning in tangerine Tory Burch) with son Steve Wyatt and Joyce Echols; Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis; Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher with wife Milly; Dorn’s family, including parents Lisa and John Dorn; Kate Dorn; Peyton Gardner; Timothy Morton; Ballroom Marfa co-founder Virginia Lebermann and chef/husband Rocky Barnette, in from Marfa; Nancy Abendshein; Judy and Charles Tate; Markley Crosswell; gallerist Laura Rathe; Tom Puls; Leigh and Reggie Smith; BeDesign’s Adrián Dueñas and Marcelo Saenz; Rice University Turrell skyspace patroness Suzanne Deal Booth, in from Austin, with LeMel Humes; artists Angelbert Metoyer, McKay Otto, Margo Sawyer, Cruz Ortiz, and Kristen Cliburn; Lisa and John Oren; Moody Center for the Arts’ Alison Weaver; Sanford Dow; Houston Arts Alliance CEO John Abodeely; gallerist Marianne Bruvel with Peter Glynn; Alina Hernandez; Aïda Eltorie; Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, with Whitmire Vo; as well as Chapel executive director David Leslie and board chair Michael Piana, who each addressed the crowd.

Post gala, an intimate group adjourned to Mullenweg’s home for an impromptu after-party, which saw chairs Tatiana and Craig Massey, Christopher Rothko and wife Lori Cohen, Duyen and Marc Nguyen, artists Bennie Flores Ansell and Sebastien “Mr. D” Boileau, Dallas McNamara of Cherryhurst House, and the Rothko Chapel’s David Leslie and Thuy Tran clinking cocktails, partaking in pizza, and engaging in conversation.

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