a few weeks ago while i was in houston visiting my brother aaron and his girlfriend gracie, we spent saturday afternoon wandering through the menil collection, one of houston's best art museums. the exhibits for the most part focus on surrealist, modern, and indigenous art and while i wouldn't necessarily say those areas are generally my favorites, i really, really enjoyed it. gracie is currently interning there, so she had a lot of fun insider information to contribute. admission is free, which made me exceedingly happy and the collections are spread across a small "campus" of buildings, so walking between them (where there are also a lot of sweet bungalows, a few galleries, and a decent park/quad area) was a nice experience as well.
here are a few personal highlights...
born in germany in the late 1800's, schwitters began his career as a painter, but is known for his extensive collage and assemblage work. he coined the term "merz" (derived from the german word for commerce) to describe his work and his effort to "make connections if possible between everything in the world". the temporary exhibit (we actually hit it on its last day - lucky!) featured mostly collages and assemblages, but also included a walk-through reconstruction of merzbau, an installation that filled an entire room in schwitters' home and served as a studio and venue for special events. personally, i loved the collages for three reasons: 1.he drew interesting parallels between seemingly unrelated objects 2.not a very enlightened reason, but they were beautiful. the colors in many were muted and looked like lovely vintage art you might find in your grandma's attic. 3.they served as a tiny glimpse in to his world - old programs, tickets, photographs, coins, household objects, the list goes on. it was like a mini exhibit of german tchotchkes from the early 20th century.
while i do like twombly's work, i was a little more excited about these fun facts: 1.he has north carolina ties and studied at black mountain college 2.he lives in lexington, virginia, where i spent some time a few summers ago. it's super. 3.he served as a cryptologist in the army, which automatically makes him cool like robert langdon. 4. his dad pitched for the white sox. 5.in 2007, a lady in france got arrested for kissing (and leaving a bright red lipstick stain) on one of his pieces.
his abstract expressionism and pop art work is childlike, bright and reminds me of cool graffiti or something a very creative four-year-old might produce. a lot of his pieces are really large and fill entire walls, which is always striking. his work seemed light and happy and i enjoyed the scrawling quotes among all the color on many of the canvases. his influences include greek and roman mythology and geography as well as epic poetry.
the byzantine fresco chapel
while the oustide of this chapel is rather unimpressive, it houses several small 13th century frescoes from cyprus. the frescoes were actually stolen from their home in turkey in the 1980's and broken in to 38 pieces. dominique de menil rescued (as in, paid ransom to the thieves) and restored them over two years. they now are displayed together in the same way they were originally. i remember being captivated by the process of the fresco (in which the artist mixes pigment with plaster or similar medium) in my freshman art survey class in college, and the works are exquisitely preserved and so beautiful in person. the chapel itself (designed by francois de menil) inside is breathtaking and i loved the modern display of the historic pieces. seems like it would be an amazing place to spend time in worship, reflection or solitude. they do hold weekly services there, and i really wish i could attend!
otherwise, there was a lot of extremely interesting, very very old indigenous art, a thought-provoking and somewhat disturbing exhibit on television and disaster by vija celmins, a very creepy surrealist "room of wonders" (no, thanks), one extremely unsettling piece of hairy cheese, and a lot of really beautiful inuit masks, tools, and paintings. these were also some of my favorites - after visiting alaska this summer i have found myself with quite an affinity for the beauty of totem poles and related works.
overall, it was an exceptionally great visit - if you ever have the chance to go, i'd encourage it!
images: 1.menil.org 2.die heilige nacht (the holy night), schwitters 1947 3.proteus, twombly, 1984 4.architecture.uwaterloo.ca 5.berkshirefinearts.com 6.annualmeeting.oah.org