PaperCity Magazine

March 2018- Houston

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Page 65 of 115

O ne of the most anticipated events of the spring literary and art scene is the release of Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil (Alfred A. Knopf, March 2018, $40). Author William Middleton's decade-in-the-making volume, weighing in at 750 pages, is the first-ever biography of the founders of one of the world's jewels of a museum, The Menil Collection. Middleton, who relocated from New York to Houston for 10 years of scholarly study, had complete access to the family and the museum archives, including a trove of personal correspondence — some 5,000 letters, nearly all in French and hand-written, most translated for the first time. The book includes 32 pages of photos, with an additional 120 images throughout the text — many, never before published. Double Vision represents a magnum opus by its author, a respected journalist, editor, and former Paris bureau chief for the Fairchild publishing empire. THE DE MENILS' COURAGE If the art world were the sole topic of Double Vision, it would be laudatory, but this book is so much more. It reveals the courage of a couple who stood up to provincialism and prejudice. They were the staunchest supporters of the late U.S. Congressman Mickey Leland and helped ensure his victory to get to D.C. and serve on Capitol Hill. Tales of the de Menil and Schlumberger family history, interwoven into the turbulent times of the French Revolution, World War I, and World War II, are vividly told, including the illustrious Schlumberger ancestor, 19th-century statesman François Guizot. A prime minister under the last king of France, this figure, almost forgotten outside his own country, was one of the most powerful statesmen in Europe during the reign of Louis Philippe (1830 - 1848). He was Dominique de Menil's great-great- grandfather. Houstonians such as the seminal Jermayne MacAgy and the eccentrically brilliant Walter Hopps, founding director of The Menil Collection, also come to life. The former was so revered by the de Menils that she is buried in their plot at Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery in Houston. MacAgy is best remembered for one of the most remarkable exhibitions ever mounted in Texas — "Totems Not Taboo," presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's new Cullinan Hall in 1959. Middleton highlights the exhibition too as a "daring gesture" in the segregated South, due to its emphasis on African art. PATRONS OF ART + ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN Design disciples will find fascinating the glimpse into the de Menils' interiors, including Middleton's research on French architect Pierre Barbe and his restrained aesthetic, which is traced from the couple's first apartment in Paris to its apogee in their Houston house (architecture Philip Johnson, interiors Charles James) — then ultimately their museum (Renzo Piano). A bonus from knowing Barbe was meeting Max Ernst, one of the talents who is a touchstone of The Menil Collection and its startling Surrealist galleries. Equally revealing is Middleton's research that the now iconic Ernst Portrait of Dominique (circa 1932) was once relegated, for 15 years, to the top of an armoire in their Parisian attic. Double Vision is an apt book for our troubled times. Cinematic, with a love story at its heart about the couple who surmounted different religions (his Catholic, hers Protestant) in the decade leading up to World War II, it offers a captivating portrait of the little understood lives they created prior to 1941, when they first emigrated to Houston. The pair of future patrons settled during a stimulating, often controversial era in a boomtown city where they subsequently brought in luminaries — Andy Warhol, Rosamond Bernier, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Norman Mailer, and René Magritte — who interacted with the locals and changed and enlarged the Texas cultural and humanitarian landscape forever. The de Menil thread to the founding of Dia, and its support of artistic forces such as Donald Judd and his burgeoning Chinati Foundation in Marfa, is outlined. Middleton also tells the story of the 45-minute meeting that led to the hiring of Renzo Piano for his first building in America, and details why Dominique de Menil was the architect's ideal client. As for the author, who is heading to the finish line following a decade of determination and tenacity in the face of complex, daunting research, and exquisite diplomacy required to earn the de Menil family's trust, Middleton answers our question: "How do I feel right now? Well, it is astounding to me that the book is actually finished and is going out into the world this month. It has been a very long, fascinating journey." (continued on page 108) TEN YEARS BY CATHERINE D. ANSPON. PORTRAIT TIM WALKER. I N T H E M A K I N G , T H E D E M E N I L O P U S D E B U T S William Middleton 64

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