Menil Collection

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Menil Collection
One corner of the Menil Collection

The Menil Collection, located in Houston, Texas, USA, refers either to a museum that houses the private art collection of founders John de Menil and Dominique de Menil, or to the collection itself. Dominique was an heir to the Schlumberger oil-drilling fortune, and John was an executive of that company.


The Renzo Piano-designed museum opened to the public in June 1987 and houses John and Dominique de Menils' privately assembled collection of twentieth-century art, including over 15,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and rare books. It includes the early to mid-twentieth century works of Yves Tanguy, René Magritte, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso among others. The museum also maintains an extensive collection of pop art and contemporary art from Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Vija Celmins and Cy Twombly, among others. Also included in the museum's permanent collection are Antiquities and works of Byzantine, Medieval and Tribal art.


The Menil Collection is open to the public, and admission is free. The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday 11 am to 7 pm. It is located near the University of St. Thomas in the Neartown area of Houston.

Campus and neighborhood[edit]

The museum campus has grown to include two satellite galleries to the main building: Cy Twombly Gallery (also designed by Piano) and The Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall, which houses Dominique de Menil's last commission (a series of three site-specific installations by Dan Flavin that were installed in 1998). Two other buildings founded by the de Menils, but now operating as independent foundations, complete the campus: The Byzantine Fresco Chapel and the Rothko Chapel. The museum has a library that is open to qualified researchers by appointment and a bookstore open during museum hours.

The neighborhood as a whole has a coordinated feel. The Menil Foundation began buying homes in the area in the 1960s and painting them the same shade of gray over time. When the museum building was constructed, it too was painted "Menil gray". Though subtle, the result is a neighborhood that feels aesthetically unified. Currently the surrounding bungalows are used as additional office space for museum employees, or rented to individuals or non-profit organizations.

In 2013, the landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh was appointed to enhance and expand the Menil Collection’s 30-acre campus. The master site plan, by David Chipperfield Architects, calls for the creation of additional green space and walkways; new visitor amenities, like a cafe; and new buildings for art.[1]

Rothko Chapel[edit]

The Rothko Chapel with Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk in the reflecting pond

The Rothko Chapel, built in 1971, is an interfaith chapel commissioned by the de Menils. The entrance-way contains holy books from various religious traditions that may be used in the chapel. The space is sky-lit, with kneeling mats, prayer benches, and meditation cushions. The walls are covered with several large paintings. The Rothko Chapel is an independent, non-profit organization.

South of the entrance is a reflecting pool with the sculpture Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman, installed here in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.[2]

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel[edit]

Interior of the Byzantine Fresco Chapel showing the glass church

Located in a separate building near the main collection, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel houses two 13th century Byzantine church frescos, an apse semi-dome of the Virgin Panagia and a dome with Christ Pantocrator (pictures on website). These were recovered from the illegal art trade, which removed them from a church in Lysi in Turkish-occupied North Cyprus during the 1980s. According to the museum they are the only such frescoes in the Americas. They are held at the museum by agreement with the Church of Cyprus, their owners.

In September 2011 the Collection announced that the frescos would be permanently returned to Cyprus in February 2012, an example of art repatriation. The future use of the chapel remains undecided.[3]

Cy Twombly Pavilion[edit]

In 1992, Renzo Piano was commissioned by Dominique de Menil to build a small, independent pavilion dedicated to the work of Cy Twombly in the grounds of the Menil Collection. Standing among the Menil’s surrounding bungalows, the Cy Twombly Gallery is built of Menil-gray-coloured block concrete, is square in plan and contains nine galleries. Like the main museum, it is lit through the roof, but here with an external canopy of louvers, shading the sloping, hipped glass roof, below which a fabric ceiling diffuses the light, giving a reduced intensity of around 300 lux.[4] The pavilion’s walls are made of cement blocks, with internal cement pillars to support the roof structure.

Menil Drawing Institute[edit]

The planned Menil Drawing Institute, according to the Menil Collection, is the first ground-up building in the United States dedicated to the exhibit, study, storage and conservation of modern and contemporary artworks on paper.[5] In 2013, Los Angeles-based Johnston Marklee was selected to design it after winning aa competition that also included David Chipperfield, SANAA and Tatiana Bilbao. The $40-million building, with a total of 30,000 square feet on two floors, one of them below ground, will be located near the southern edge of the Menil campus, adjacent to the Cy Twombly Pavilion.[6] Modestly scaled, the flat-roofed building will top out at 16 feet, no taller than the neighboring gray bungalows on the 30-acre campus. Half of its space will be for underground storage, while the ground level will contain a large, flexible central living room, about 3,000 square feet of exhibition space, a scholar's cloister, rooms for seminars and other events, and a conservation lab, all wrapped around three courtyards.[7]


In June 2012, a museum visitor defaced an original Picasso at the museum, Woman in a Red Armchair.


The museum is governed by the Menil Foundation, established in the 1950s by the de Menils. The foundation has been solely responsible for acquisition funds, which during the first years averaged more than $1 million annually, and operating disbursements of between $2.7 million and $2.9 million a year.[8] Nearly half of the money for the museum building was derived from outside sources in Houston, in particular the Cullen Foundation and the Brown Foundation, which contributed $5 million each.[9]

The museum's first director was Walter Hopps. Before joining the Menil Collection as director in 1983, he had worked with Mrs. de Menil on planning the museum and its program.[10]


  1. ^ Robin Pogrebin (June 12, 2013), Menil Collection Hires Landscape Architect to Enhance Its Houston Campus New York Times.
  2. ^ Parsons, Jim (January 16, 2006). "Broken Obelisk back at the Menil". Houstonist (defunct). Gothamist, LLC. Retrieved August 31, 2011. "In the late 1960s, the federal government offered grants to Houston, Philadelphia, Grand Rapids and Seattle for monumental public works of contemporary art. In 1969, John and Dominique de Menil offered to match the government grant to buy Broken Obelisk for the City of Houston. They wanted it designated a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated the year before; the base of the sculpture would be inscribed with a quote from Jesus: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." The piece was to be installed in Hermann Square, in front of City Hall. But the forward-thinking City Council didn't really go for that: Council members claimed not to see the point of the biblical quotation proposed for Broken Obelisk. They turned down the de Menils' proposal and asked that the couple pick a site other than City Hall. "People who come down here don't understand these arty objects," council member Lee McLemore told the Houston Chronicle in 1969. "We would be better off with a nice drinking fountain out there." Council rejected the sculpture as a King memorial and Houston ended up losing the federal art grant. The de Menils bought Broken Obelisk outright and announced they'd donate it, along with 14 Mark Rothko paintings, to the Institute of Religion — the foundation of the Rothko Chapel." 
  3. ^ Houston Culturemap
  4. ^ Cy Twombly Pavilion (1992-1995) Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
  5. ^ Molly Glentzer (February 19, 2014), Menil unveils plans for long-awaited drawing institute Houston Chronicle.
  6. ^ Christopher Hawthorne (February 19, 2014), Review: Menil design by L.A.'s Johnston Marklee is deceptively simple Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Molly Glentzer (February 19, 2014), Menil unveils plans for long-awaited drawing institute Houston Chronicle.
  8. ^ Grace Glueck (May 29, 1989), Menil Collection Seeks $35 Million New York Times.
  9. ^ Grace Glueck (May 26, 1987), Houston's Elegant Menil Collection New York Times.
  10. ^ Grace Glueck (May 29, 1989), Menil Collection Seeks $35 Million New York Times.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°44′14″N 95°23′55″W / 29.73722°N 95.39861°W / 29.73722; -95.39861