The Menil in Houston has grown to 6 buildings. The main building contains parts of the permanent art collection amassed by John and Dominique de Menil and some changing exhibitions. Nearby are a bookstore, the somewhat new Bistro Menil, the Cy Twombly Gallery, and Richmond Hall, which specializes in fluorescent works created by sculptor Dan Flavin. The newest addition is the Menil Drawing Institute.
The de Menils began collecting in the 1940s and were discussing the need for a museum when John died. Dominique lived for another 25 years and saw their collection in a new building designed by Renzo Piano after 1987. It is very unadorned but a good showcase for art. The de Menils specialized. Their unusual collection grew to more than 17,000 works. They were especially fond of surrealism, Byzantine art, indigenous cultures, etc. They befriended Belgian painter Rene Magritte, entertained him in their home, and bought lots of his works.
Over the years they acquired many modern and contemporary drawings so there was a need for the Menil Drawing Institute. It began to organize exhibitions and create scholarly projects 10 years before the building designed for it opened on November 3, 2018. It contains facilities for museum curators doing research, offices, has a conservation lab, and provides space for changing displays of the museum’s growing drawing collection. It’s an excellent and innovative building that’s worth seeing. Outside it is Ellsworth Kelly’s last public sculpture, a white triangle that looks like a billowing sail to me, a grand live oak tree, and 2 square, very attractive rock and vegetation gardens designed by Michael Heizer, who calls them land works.
The original museum is still in a residential neighborhood at 1533 Sul Ross. The Menil Drawing Institute is at 1412 West Main. Bistro Menil, which specializes in one-of-a-kind creations and is highly recommended by Ruth & me, opened in 2014 across the street from the main museum near the bookstore. Houston’s mayor, African American Sylvester Turner, who survived criticism for not calling for city evacuation before Hurricane Harvey, was present for the Drawing Institute’s opening.