The de Menils (John and Dominique) moved from France to Houston during World War II and quickly became key figures in Houston's developing cultural life. They were champions of civil and human rights, and believed that art is a central part of the human experience.
The Menil website tells us that "this belief in the power of art explains the value the Menil Collection places on the ... viewer's unmediated experience in the gallery. The Menil believes that a viewer's encounter with a work of art should be immediate and direct, not conditioned by others' thoughts and opinions about the work."
Incidentally, I did not read the above excerpt until after I visited, but had noticed the lack of directed thinking/explanation in the galleries, and had several wonderful and insightful conversations with various Menil volunteers about how they felt about various exhibits, artists, and collections. So, well done Menil - mission accomplished.
The best three things about The Menil Collection:
- It is free, always. This fit right in with my unemployed zero dollar budget.
- It is located in the "museum district" of Houston which actually means it is located smack-dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I love the idea of an internationally acclaimed art museum located across the street from my house.
- If you visit on a not-too-busy day the volunteers are happy to have a conversation with you about various pieces of art, the entire collection, a specific artist, or installation. I haven't had a really nerdy art conversation for in a long time, and I had several during my visit.
- haha! I lied! I totally thought of other best things! They have several fabulous pieces by Rene Magritte. I LOVE Magritte. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! The Getty has a "Delusions of Grandeur" in their sculpture garden and The Menil has the painted version "Megalomania".
- They have paintings by Piet Mondrian. I LOVE Mondrian. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! I even bought a set of glasses (from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts).
- They have so many powerful pieces. I got all overwhelmed and teary-eyed multiple times during my visit. I have long stated my opinion that there are objective measures for what makes "good" art - composition, color use, skill, intent, etc., but that the most important measure is subjective, and that is what you feel when you look at it. I remember going to the Monet to Picasso exhibit at UMFA and seeing a bust of a child that was all waxy and melting. It is still the most memorable piece (among so many exceptional pieces) of the exhibit, for me.
The worst thing is that that you are absolutely not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, so y'all will just have to go see for yourself.
You are allowed pictures outside and they have several sculptural works as well.
Jack, 1971 Jim Love
Charmstone, 1991 Michael Heizer
Michael Heizer, Isolated Mass/Circumflex (#2); Dissipate; Rift
Bygones, 1976 Mark di Suvero
Broken Obelisk, 1963-67 H. Barnett Newman (dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.)
The Elevens Are Up, 1963; Wall, 1964; New Piece, 1966 by Tony Smith