back in h-town: menil collection

The Menil Collection is a short drive away from the MFAH and CAMH in downtown Houston. It has its own parking lot (yay!) and is free admission (yay!), but it’s only open Wednesday through Sunday, which are kind of odd hours. I know the museum more for the architecture than the art, and more for its history than its current events.

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The Menil Collection is a museum housing the private collection of John and Dominique de Menil and was opened to the public in 1987. Basically, the Menils were loaded, very much a part of the art scene, and contributed a lot to Houston in terms of the arts and architecture. They were also patrons to Philip Johnson, who went on to help define modern architecture.

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The Menil Collection is located in a fairly residential area, near the University of St. Thomas, and it fits its surroundings. It’s a pretty simple rectangular structure with wood siding painted gray, a low profile, and a surrounding portico. You enter in the middle and go either left or right to the galleries. The collection itself is kind of odd, split between twentieth century and contemporary works on the right and antiquities and African stuff on the left. The three exhibits going on right now are “Progress of Love” (weird contemporary stuff, some of which is downright pornographic), “Claes Oldenburg: Strange Eggs” (eh), and “Dear John & Dominique: Letters and Drawings from the Menil Archives” (kinda interesting if you’re interested in the museum itself or art scene and don’t mind reading, but not much to look at).

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As a side note, there seem to be a whole lot of museum guards for the relatively small museum (smaller than the MFAH but larger than the CAMH) – and they’re strict! I didn’t get yelled at, but there were a lot of other people that got evil eyes and strongly worded “No photos” or “Stop that.” Then again, a Picasso got vandalized last June at the Menil, so I can imagine they’re being vigilant to avoid a repeat of that incident. Or maybe it was because I was there when it first opened for the day and the guards were still in a morning grouch.

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The architecture is a classic. Not sure how many people know of the Menil, but we studied it in architecture school, which could be because I went to school in Texas … where we studied a lot of Texas buildings. But it was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, and that dude’s internationally famous. And for good reason. The Menil Collection is mostly known for its louvered ceiling, which bounces light into the museum space, since natural light generally looks great but the ultraviolet rays from direct sunlight can damage artwork. In some of the gallery spaces the ceiling is completely covered to further protect the work from light, which is understandable but unfortunate. But the exterior, where the louvers are exposed … well that could use a real good scrub down.