The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection is an art museum located in Houston, Texas, USA, in a 30-acre neighborhood of art. The main building houses special exhibitions and the permanent collection, and it anchors a campus with four other museum buildings: two are dedicated to single artists (Cy Twombly and Dan Flavin), the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and the Menil Drawing Institute. Known for displays that allow the objects and works of art to speak for themselves—there are no “didactics” on the wall or media in the galleries—the Menil philosophy is to foster each individual’s direct, personal encounter with works of art. The display of carefully chosen artworks in sympathetic settings are Menil hallmarks.
Loan shows and artist projects are the most visible exhibitions, featuring new perspectives and new scholarship and reflecting the stance of an artist-centered institution. The museum’s own collection—displayed in two-thirds of the main building and often rotated—is built around several types of art loved and collected from the 1940s to the 1990s by the Menil Collection’s founders, John and Dominique de Menil. Best known are the Surrealist and other modern European painting and sculpture. Also included are Byzantine and medieval art and artifacts; African, Pacific Islands, and Pacific Northwest Native art; art of the ancient Americas and the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. The collection area that has grown the most since the museum opened in June 1987 is American art since World War II.
Scholarship is at the heart of the Menil enterprise. A conservation studio and a research library symbolically flank the public exhibition spaces, and the de Menils themselves commissioned several major research efforts. The conservation department safeguards and restores works of art, is known for studies of modern art materials and techniques and helps train conservators. More visible to a global audience are exhibition- and collection-related books. Menil Collection activities have always encompassed the publication of art and the thought of leading scholars and critics. These include catalogues raisonné of the oeuvres of René Magritte and Max Ernst and the ambitious Image of the Black in Western Art series, the 10th and last volume of which was released in 2014 by Harvard University Press. The publishing program, unusually productive for a museum of its size, addresses international audiences, including many who may never visit the museum itself.