Surrealism in Houston's Menil Collection

Surrealism in Houston's Menil Collection

In a residential neighborhood of wood frame houses and gnarled oaks that rubs bellies with the University of Saint Thomas campus stands the Menil Foundation. After leaving World War II France for Houston, comforts of the oil industry afforded John and Dominique de Menil to champion the arts nurturing a collection from the 1940’s to 70’s that would become their gift to the city. The museum, opened in the 1987, was to be a place to contemplate art and cycle installations where “…works would appear, disappear, and reappear like actors on a stage. Each time they would be seen with a fresh eye,” because, Dominique de Menil said, “Habit blunts vision.”

Entering the museum I gravitate toward right wing dedicated to the Surrealists. More than a handful of Magritte’s canvases hang alongside works from Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, and Man Ray. Even a still life personage arranged by Archimboldo is tucked away in a room of Surrealist paraphernalia like taxidermy birds and Katchina dolls. Inspired by the unity of opposites curio mingles with natural history. Tony Smith’s abstract “Drawings,” geometric forms shaded in pastels that resemble microbes under the scrutiny of a microscope hang in a nearby section devoted to temporary expositions,
The other wing is a hodgepodge of Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts. Tattered tapestry, etched vessels and sculptures share space with haloed Byzantine works. A few more steps down the hall African art and costume are housed with Pacific Northwest totems.

Those that find museums overwhelming will appreciate the diversity and accessibility of the Menil. And better yet is the fact that admission is free. Allot an hour to meander through the collection. Pack a picnic to share the green with the university students on one of the warm, sunny days that Houstonians take for granted. The Rothko chapel is also in the proximity. If there at dusk keep an eye overhead for the camp of bats that was circling on the February night I found myself there.

The Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross Street Houston, TX 77006
Open 11:00 a.m – 7:00 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday
Admission free

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