Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Menil Collection

A few years ago, I visited the beautiful Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. I was very moved by the fourteen enormous Rothko paintings and the serene, contemplative atmosphere in this small, non-denominational building in the centre of the busy city. The Rothko Chapel is just one part of the campus that makes up the Menil Collection. Created by John and Dominique de Menil, this private collection consists of almost 16,000 works that range from the Palaeolithic era to the present day. Last week I had the chance to see some of the other buildings and exhibits that make up this amazing Collection.
The Menil Collection
View from the entrance hall.
Isolated Mass/ Circumflex (#2) 1968-78
by Michael Heizer
Displayed at the entrance to the Menil Collection
The Menil Collection opened to the public in 1987. The main building was designed by Renzo Piano in collaboration with Dominique de Menil, taking into account her requirement that objects from the Collection should be displayed in natural light. The innovative building designed by Renzo Piano uses a special roof structure to keep direct sunlight off the objects, but at the same time reflects natural light downwards into the galleries. My favourite galleries housed the Arts of the Pacific Islands and had lovely plants growing between them. The beautiful sculptures on display are free-standing, allowing for close up viewing. (Photography is only allowed in the hallway and outside the buildings, so please click on the exhibition links to see more images.)

The long central corridor of the Menil Collection main building.
There were several temporary exhibitions in the galleries. Entrancing photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson were on display in "Life is Once, Forever" and "The Secret of the Hanging Egg; Salvador Dali at the Menil",  had many thought-provoking works by Dali, Max Ernst, Renee Magritte and other prominent Surrealist painters and sculptors. In the centre of this exhibition we came across "Witnesses; to a Surrealist Vision", a fascinating on-going exhibition dedicated to the inspiration that fuelled the surreal view of the world. The objects in this exhibition "were either owned by the Surrealists or are in the spirit of those they collected".

From the main building, we walked to Richmond Hall a few blocks away. This was definitely worth the hot walk in 101F! Dominique de Menil commissioned Dan Flavin to create this permanent installation in 1996. Flavin's light installation in the huge, otherwise bare hall of this 1930s former supermarket is beautiful. The longer you look, the more the many individual coloured fluorescent lights glow, reflect and blend together. At the back of the hall is a small room with bright light sculptures created by Flavin in 1964-69 and inspired by the Russian Constructivist movement.

From here, we were directed a few blocks away to the Byzantine Chapel, currently exhibiting the Fabiola Project by Francis Alys. The initial impact of this installation is to make the viewer wonder at the enormous number of repetitive images of Fabiola, a fourth century Christian Saint, brought together in one place. After a few minutes of looking, you begin realise how different each image actually is and by the time you leave, you wonder how you ever thought they were the same!

The Menil Colletion
Byzantine Chapel
Our last stop on this fascinating visit was to the Cy Twombly Gallery. This building was also designed by Renzo Piano, based on a sketch by Twombly. The gallery opened in 1995 and houses a permanent installation of Cy Twombly's work. Although the building looks small from the outside, once inside you walk into several large gallery spaces that display Twombly's enormous canvasses. My favourite room contained an untitled series of nine paintings that can be viewed, along with his other works, on the Cy Twombly website.

I loved the afternoon that my family, friends and I spent on the Menil Collection Campus. The beautiful buildings contain an enormous variety of objects and art that are continually being rotated. This quote from Dominique de Menil summarises her vision for the Collection and is the reason why I am really looking forward to my next visit!

"I came up with a concept ... we would rotate the works of art ... The public would never know museum fatigue. Works would appear, disappear, and reappear like actors on a stage. Each time they would be seen with a fresh eye.” —Dominique de Menil

The main entrance to the Menil Collection

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