The Menil Collection consists of the 30-acre compilation of art begun by Dominique and John de Menil after moving to Houston, Texas. It houses nearly 19,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and photographs from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and 16th-century to present-day Europe as well as modern masterpieces from major artists.
Sprawling across the campus, the buildings are understated in trademark gray and white amid a green setting of shady lawns and gnarled oak trees. Visitors can move in seconds from one gallery to another.
Modern and Contemporary Art
One of Houston’s most visited museums, the Menil Collection is unlike any other. Located away from the main museum district in a residential neighborhood, the Menil Collection has a walkable campus of free-standing buildings including the Cy Twombly Gallery and Rothko Chapel as well as a restaurant and the Menil Drawing Institute.
The 17,000-piece collection at this free museum reflects the passions of founders John and Dominique de Menil rather than an encyclopedic approach. The collection stretches from ancient artifacts to modern European paintings, sculptures, and drawings as well as African and Oceanic art.
The highlight is the large collection of modern and contemporary art. This includes Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans and pieces by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock among others. This era is represented inside the sky-lit galleries as well as outdoors where sculptural works like Mark di Suvero and Ellsworth Kelly stand.
The Menil Collection houses over 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and rare books. The collection’s founders, John and Dominique de Menil (of the Schlumberger oil empire), are credited with bringing cultural intellectualism and European flair to conservative Texas when they began collecting in earnest after moving to Houston in 1941.
The collection includes art of antiquity, the Byzantine and medieval worlds, Africa, Oceania, and the Pacific Northwest, and 20th-century modernism and surrealism. A significant portion of the collection is dedicated to abstract works by artists such as Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly.
The Menil Collection’s campus feels like a museum you would find in Europe. Each of the buildings is surrounded by trees, gardens, and grassy lawns. The lighting changes throughout the day and after storms to give visitors a different experience with each visit.
The Menil Collection’s buildings are scattered throughout a quiet neighborhood, making for a very walkable museum campus. Visitors may spend a whole day navigating through the different collections.
The founders’ avowed interest in Surrealism remains strong with the museum’s holdings of works by Max Ernst, Victor Brauner, and Joseph Cornell. A strong presence in the museum’s sculpture collection also includes minimalist Dan Flavin, whose fluorescent builds pioneered during the 1960s.
The newest galleries in the main building are designed around themes of human mortality and spirituality. Here, visitors can see a variety of approaches to these issues by artists such as Kara Walker, Allora and Calzadilla, and Michael Heizer, who was a pioneer of Land Art in the 1960s with his Nine Nevada Depressions earthworks.
Designed in the 1960s by architect Renzo Piano, The Menil Collection’s main building is part of a sprawling museum campus nestled within a Houston neighborhood. The walkable campus includes free-standing buildings such as the Cy Twombly Gallery and Rothko Chapel, plus a restaurant and bookstore.
The museum’s photography collections explore the enduring affinities of art and technology. Its extensive holdings of Surrealist imagery demonstrate how photography’s central tension between document and invention has long been a generative force for artists.
The museum also maintains an impressive catalog of Modernist paintings, from the realism of Cezanne and Braque to abstract works all about skinny lines by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In addition, the museum has significant collections of Mexican and South American art. It also houses a rare collection of African art.
The Menil Collection resists the museum encyclopedia model, with galleries dedicated to ancient artifacts, medieval and Renaissance European paintings, Tribal art (including a stunning room filled with tree fern sculptures), and twentieth-century modernist works. The collection also houses a substantial publishing program that addresses broader art history and cultural questions, including catalog raisonné on artists like Rene Magritte and Max Ernst.
Many recent visitors raved about the modern gallery, which explores many of the movement’s significant artists through massive artworks and in a chronological way that makes sense of the progression. Yves Klein’s Blue Rain, in which wooden rods hang above a pit of blue pigment, is a highlight. The sprawling campus feels insulated from the rest of Houston, nestled into a residential neighborhood with plenty of greenery and quiet.
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