PaperCity Magazine

March 2015 - Houston

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W hile the Menil Collection has achieved international recognition through its careful selection of works and exhibitions, the grounds and surrounding bungalows have long identified the landscape as an urban oasis. Both the Renzo Piano-designed museum and Rothko Chapel are framed by a score of small bungalows. The site began to take shape in the early 1970s, as the de Menils settled more deeply into their adopted city. Initial plans for a campus drawn up by architect Louis Kahn would have razed many of the current residential structures to allow for the building of several art storage warehouses. This plan, however, was never realized due to Kahn's untimely death in 1974. In his place, Houston architect Howard Barnstone was hired and initiated a plan to unify the surrounding bungalows by painting them the now familiar yet elusive "Menil Gray" with white trim. Gray was Dominique's favorite color, soft and subtle. Its use by Barnstone reflected his appreciation for Mrs. de Menil and was a logical extension of her preference for an understated, elegant aesthetic. This palette would be repeated by Renzo Piano for his first American masterpiece, the construction of The Menil Collection, which is considered a defining moment in modern architecture. A HISTORY OF ART, RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY The de Menils made frequent trips to New York, where they met many exiled French intellectuals, artists and dealers. They also reconnected with the Dominican priest Father Marie-Alain Couturier, who urged the collection of art, with a particular interest in Cubist, Surrealist and other modernist European works. Couturier was himself a former artist who had joined the priesthood and became the force behind the innovative collaboration between the Catholic Church and modern masters such as Matisse, Picasso, Leger and Le Corbusier. Furthering a relationship that began in France in the early 1930s, the de Menils attended Father Couturier's lectures, which stressed the relationship between art and religious experience in contemporary culture. Influenced by these views, which were associated with a progressive movement in the French Roman Catholic Church, they sought to explore the dialectical contradictions between modernity and faith, rather than the rejection of one or the other. The de Menils were also supporters of Ecumenism, a movement that sought greater cooperation among Christian faiths. It is worth noting that while John was raised Catholic, Dominique was raised Protestant and converted to Catholicism. These influences are why the Menil campus is not simply about art, but also spirituality and advocacy for human rights. [One of the books about the family is titled Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil.] INTEGRAL ADDITIONS In 1995, the freestanding Cy Twombly Gallery was added — like the Menil, it was designed by Renzo Piano — to house a permanent selection of Twombly's works, offering an inspiring survey of a 50-plus year career, with painting, sculpture and drawing spanning 1953 to 2004. In 1996, the Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall was completed. In 1997, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel unveiled. Designed by architect François de Menil (one of Dominique and John's five children), it was created specifically to house and display a temporary exhibit of 13th-century Byzantine frescoes, which had been looted from a chapel in Lysi, Cyprus. When Dominique de Menil learned the frescoes had been stolen and damaged by smugglers, she paid the ransom and funded the restoration. In return for her efforts, the Holy Bishopric of Cyprus allowed the works to remain in Houston on loan for 20 years; they were displayed here until 2012. Dominique de Menil died in December 1997. NOW AND THE FUTURE The latest campus master plan (by David Chipperfield Architects) calls for additional green space and walkways, a cafe and new buildings for art. In 2013, Massachusetts- based landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh was appointed to enhance and expand The Menil Collection's now 30-acre campus. In 2014, Bistro Menil, designed by Stern and Bucek Architects, opened on the exact site originally envisioned by Mrs. de Menil and Renzo Piano some 25 years earlier. The most recent project is the redevelopment of the former Byzantine Fresco Chapel, now known as the BFC, to showcase innovative, site-specific contemporary art. Organized by curator Toby Kamps, the first exhibition in the space features a just unveiled work of the Venice Biennale-exhibited collaborators Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, a site-specific mobile inspired by Greek philosopher Pythagoras' concept of "the music of the spheres." The next projects slated to break ground are the highly anticipated Menil Drawing Institute and a new Energy House, designed by L.A. firm Johnston Marklee. The Drawing Institute is a $40 million, 30,150-square-foot freestanding facility that will be the first of its kind in the United States, operating as a storage, study, exhibition and conservation center for modern and contemporary works on paper. The center will be powered — as will the entire campus — by the new environmentally sustainable Energy House, which serves as a central utilities plant for the museum and all of its annex buildings. O ur series, profiling some of the unique personalities that have lived in the bungalows surrounding The Menil Collection, begins this month on the facing page. In many cases, leasing one of the coveted bungalows is owed more to luck than anything else. Past residents have included Rome Prize/MacArthur Fellow the poet Edward Hirsch and his wife, Janet Landay, former curator of exhibitions for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and writer of the MFAH Visitor Guide. Also taking up residence were Da Camera's Sarah Rothenberg, Rice University department of art chair/artist John Sparagana and Guggenheim Fellow/ author Rosellen Brown. Part one of our series looks at Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss, founders of FotoFest and residents of a bungalow for the past 35 years. Future issues profile artist Bob Russell and his wife, Judy; chef Seth Siegel-Gardner and his wife, Hannah; artist Amber Eagle; and office mates Michael Landrum, Karen Lantz and Garrett Hunter. SHUNJI ISHIDA, COURTESY OF THE RENZO PIANO BUILDING WORKSHOP A. DE MENIL A. DE MENIL JOHN LEE SIMONS DAVID CROSSLEY, COURTESY OF THE RENZO PIANO BUILDING WORKSHOP SHUNJI ISHIDA, COURTESY OF THE RENZO PIANO BUILDING WORKSHOP Above: Peter Rice, Renzo Piano, Dominique de Menil and Nina Cullinan viewing the museum model, Menil Foundation, Houston, 1982 Left: Dominique de Menil with a Maori figure at the de Menil home, Houston, 1973 ÉMINENCE GRISE Dominique de Menil, Renzo Piano and Kathryn Davidson viewing plans for The Menil Collection, Menil Foundation office, Houston, 1984 AN INTRIGUING ENCLAVE OF EARLY-20TH-CENTURY BUNGALOWS, RICH IN HISTORY AND UNDERSTATED PRESENCE, GAVE RISE TO THE HALLOWED MENIL COLLECTION IN ALL ITS GRAND SIMPLICITY. HERE, THE FIRST IN A SERIES ON THE MENIL BUNGALOWS AND THEIR REMARKABLE INHABITANTS. R ESTING GRACEFULLY AMONG TREE-LINED STREETS OF THE MUSEUM DISTRICT, THE MENIL COLLECTION IS A STUDY IN HARMONY AND PURPOSE. SYMBOLIC OF BOTH THE PAST AND FUTURE OF THE CITY'S ART SCENE, THE 30-ACRE MUSEUM CAMPUS CONTINUES TO EVOLVE, AS EVIDENCED BY THE ADDITION OF NEW GREEN SPACES AND WALKWAYS, THE RECENT OPENING OF BISTRO MENIL, A NEW LIFE FOR THE BYZANTINE FRESCO CHAPEL AND THE IMMINENT GROUND- BREAKING OF TWO NEW BUILDINGS. DOMINIQUE AND JOHN DE MENIL ESTABLISHED THE MENIL FOUNDATION IN 1954; HE DIED IN 1973, AND SHE CONTINUED THE VISION, OPENING THE MUSEUM IN 1987. IT FULFILLS THEIR MISSION OF A FREE MUSEUM OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, EXHIBITING WORKS FROM A WIDE EXPANSE OF ARTISTIC PERIODS AND TRADITIONS, RANGING FROM GREEK ANTIQUITIES, BYZANTINE ICONS AND AFRICAN MASKS TO MODERN PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURE. PAPERCITY ASKED DAVID BUCEK, PRINCIPAL WITH STERN AND BUCEK ARCHITECTS (THE FIRM RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SENSITIVE RENOVATION OF THE 1950 PHILIP JOHNSON-DESIGNED DE MENIL FAMILY HOME ON SAN FELIPE) TO PROVIDE INSIGHT INTO THE VISION AND DYNAMIC OF THE MENIL CAMPUS. STEVEN HEMPEL Menil Foundation office under construction in Houston; Howard Barnstone, architect; completed 1975 John and Dominique de Menil at the opening of "The John and Dominique de Menil Collection," Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1962 Dominique de Menil in the galleries during the construction of The Menil Collection, 1986 BY DAVID BUCEK

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