Hitting Refresh: The Menil Collection's Subtle, Substantial Redo In Houston
As The Menil Collection in Houston handles some updates and improvements to its main building’s interior, the process has been as discreet as the presence of the museum itself within a neighborhood near the Museum District.
Inside the building, however, the project’s logistics have been a bit like a game of Tetris, involving conservation, storage and “shuffling” of objects as work affected exhibition and common spaces, museum sources say.
Earlier this month, the first of the re-installation began in some of the gallery space, which occupies 30,000 SF of the 100,000 SF main building. The facility also houses a library, archives, staff offices and space for conservation and storage.
Funds for the $ 2.23 million project came from the 30-year-old museum’s first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. The Campaign for The Menil, ending in December 2017, raised $ 121 million for campus improvements and the endowment.
With the public re-opening recently announced — Sept. 22, 2018 — visitors will find the project results both subtle and substantial, says Rebecca Rabinow, museum director.
Initially, new installations will consist exclusively of the permanent collection, including recent acquisitions and promised gifts not previously exhibited. More specifically, as museum materials indicate, the year-long permanent collection initiative will include “thematic presentations of artwork, as well as two temporary rotating series, complemented by a roster of public programs that underscore the museum’s engagement with and commitment to living artists.”
Scope Creep: Museum Edition
Even museum projects can experience a little scope creep, quips Tommy Napier, Menil Collection’s assistant communications director. Initially triggered by a need for fire sensor updates, the project ultimately opted to also refinish the pine flooring, refresh the restrooms and landings, enhance the lighting inside and out, spruce up the outdoor walking paths and improve the loading dock.
In managing the project, Facilities Manager Steve McConathy has added a special continuity, Napier notes, since he has been with the foundation for more than 30 years and managed construction of the main building in 1987.
While additional gallery space wasn’t added with the current updates, using existing space more efficiently has been part of the effort.
“Because of the need for updates and repairs to our main building, we recognized that we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to refresh the galleries and re-imagine the installation,” Rabinow explains in museum materials.
Comprised of nearly 17,000 objects, the museum’s growing collection has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, Napier says. Particular areas of strength include Byzantine art, West and Central African art, Surrealism, and 20th and 21st century American and European art.
“We’re a museum. We’re a research center. We’re also a neighborhood,” Napier says. “With the growth of the campus, it was important to maintain the human scale,” he says of the assemblage.
Houston philanthropists and arts patrons John and Dominique de Menil established the Menil Foundation in 1954 to foster greater public understanding and appreciation of art, architecture, culture, religion, and philosophy. The museum opened in 1987. Then and now, admission is free.
Today, the Menil Collection campus houses the main building, Cy Twombly Gallery, Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall, Byzantine Fresco Chapel, Menil Bookstore, Menil Park and Bistro Menil. More than 35 museum-owned bungalows — each painted the same shade of gray and used for a variety of purposes — line residential streets shaded by live oak canopies as sculptural as the pieces in the collection.
November 2018 will have the opening of another component on campus, the $ 40 million, 30,000 SF Menil Drawing Institute, designed by Johnston Marklee. It is considered the first free-standing facility built expressly for the acquisition, exhibition, study, conservation, and storage of modern and contemporary drawings
The Menil Collection’s 1987 main building, designed by Renzo Piano, has received numerous awards and accolades. It is celebrated for its functionality as a living and working museum, its domestic scale within a historic residential neighborhood, and its innovative use of natural light, museum materials say.
In addition to the Menil Collection update, Houston’s museum community has several projects in the works. In the Museum District located two miles south of the Menil Collection, Holocaust Museum Houston is doubling its facility, a project estimated at nearly $ 50 million for a 57,000 SF building, and Museum Fine Arts, Houston is expanding and connecting its campus facilities and gardens, a $ 450 million undertaking. Earlier this year, Moody Center for the Arts opened a its $ 30 million 50,000 SF facility on the campus of Rice University.
Cynthia Lescalleet, Contributor
Forbes – Lifestyle