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Friday 04.25.08

« 9 years & last chance for an impressive April gallery junket | Main | Exciting TBA festival visual arts lineup announced »

They Say Everything's Bigger in Texas

Oregon Handmade Bicycles at PDX

I couldn't make a trip to the airport without swinging by Concourse E and checking out the handmade bicycles exhibit. For the bike buff, it will not disappoint, but I was surprised that there weren't any Chvnk-style bikes included, since Chvnk has become such a Portland cultural mainstay.

Barnett Newman, "Broken Obelisk," 1963-67

Once in Houston, I headed to the Rothko Chapel. This sculpture dominates the campus around the building.

Rothko Chapel exterior with reflecting pool

The architecture of the chapel was originally a collaborative project between painter Mark Rothko and architect Philip Johnson. When differences of opinion caused Johnson to leave the project, Houston architects Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry completed it.

Rothko Chapel interior, paintings by Mark Rothko

The de Menils were Catholic, and felt that Mark Rothko's paintings evoked the sense of sacred contemplation that they were seeking for their chapel project. The Rothko Chapel is currently operated independently of the Menil Collection. Note: I was unable to take photographs of the interior, so this is a press image.

North entrance of the Menil Collection

The building housing the Menil Collection was the first American project by Genoese architect Renzo Piano. The main campus is fairly modest, with a hidden second floor to store the incredible number of works in the collection. The building opened in 1987.

Mark di Suvero, "Bygones," 1976

This sculpture lives in the park adjacent to the main Menil building.

Michael Heizer, "Isolated Mass/Circumflex (#2)," 1968-78

A great piece embedded in the north lawn, which continues straight across the lawn on either side of the path.

Michael Heizer, "Charmstone"

Hanging outside the north entrance, above the donor plaque.

Sol LeWitt, "Scribble Drawing"

The LeWitt piece on the wall introduces the current featured exhibition, How Artists Draw. The Menil Collection is currently in the process of gathering funds to build another out-building to house its drawing collections. This shot highlights the incredible natural light that the museum is famous for.

Mark Rothko, both "Untitled," 1969

The de Menils loved Rothko, who grew up in Portland after emigrating to the United States. In addition to the chapel, their collection features many, many pieces by Rothko.

Mark Rothko & Barnett Newman

More Rothko and some Barnett Newman from the Drawing exhibition. The large central piece is Rothko's Untitled, flanked on the left by his studies for the Harvard murals, and on the right by Newman's untitled drawings.

Robert Rauschenberg, "Glacier (Hoarfrost)," 1974 (center)

The collection is also home to several works by Robert Rauschenberg.

Robert Rauschenberg, "Holiday Ruse"

Robert Rauschenberg, "Niagara Summer Glut," 1987

You can also see a Warhol soup can peeking out of the corner. Legend has it that Dominique de Menil was one of the many society ladies painted by Warhol, but no such images were on display when I visited.

Giogio di Chirico, "Melancholia," 1916

The Surrealism galleries stand out for their dark atmosphere. As noted above, most of the building was designed to maximize natural light, but the Surrealism galleries are almost entirely lit with small, almost spooky spotlights to create an appropriately eerie atmosphere. Deeper into the galleries is a great room filled with the bizarre objects that the Surrealists kept in their own homes (not pictured).

Antiquities, Menil Collection

My last stop in the main building was a breeze through the antiquities collection. The final room is flanked by a lush garden visible through glass walls on either side, creating a gorgeous tropical atmosphere.

Cy Twombly, "Blackboard"

Next I paid a visit to the Cy Twombly building, which also happened to be Renzo Piano's second architectural project in the U.S.

Cy Twombly, "Untitled Painting [Say Goodbye Catallus, to the Shores of Asia Minor][A Painting in Three Parts]," 1994

The highlight of the Twombly building was this extraordinary, room-filling painting.

Dan Flavin, "Untitled" (detail foreground), 1996

Final stop in the Menil Collection: The Dan Flavin building. These familiar angles adorn either side of the entrance.

Dan Flavin, "Untitled" (installation view), 1996

This installation makes up the whole of the building. The space really highlights the element of playfulness that makes Flavin's installations so compelling. And yes, they have had to replace some bulbs.

Yue Minjun, "Spirit Away," 2006

Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the Museum of Fine Art until my last day in town, when it was closed. A pair of these confronts visitors to the Caroline Wiess Law Building on Bissonnet as part of the Red Hot Asian Exhibition.

Sui Jianguo, "Jurassic Age," 2006

This friendly beast shares space with the sculptures above, also part of the Asian Exhibition.

Auguste Rodin, "The Walking Man," C.1899-1900/1905, cast 1962

Turned away from the MFAH, I cruised across the way to the Cullen Sculpture Garden.

Ellsworth Kelly, "Houston Triptych," 1986

These pieces intrigued me. They remind me of a lot of the sculptural explorations that are happening right now in Portland, only with a late-Minimalist bent.

Frank Stella, "Decanter," 1987

As a rule, I prefer Stella's painting, but this piece has undeniable charm up close.

Alexander Calder, "The Crab," 1962

A little creepy and yet, I daresay, somewhat appetizing.

Thaos Swallowtail Butterfly

I also visited the Museum of Natural Science. I didn't take any of my own pictures, but I highly recommend the butterfly center.

Special thanks to Vance Muse of the Menil Collection for all his assistance.

Posted by Megan Driscoll on April 25, 2008 at 8:45 | Comments (10)


Rothko vs. Johnson
Rothko by knockout in the second round.

You know a painter is great when they can have a difference of opinion with Philip Johnson and win.

Today only Richard Serra could possibly trump Frank Gehry...

Also, the Menil and the Beyler foundations both proved what an ideal architect for intimate museum's Renzo Piano is.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2008 09:38 AM

actually, johnson ended up back on the project at the very, very end when Barnstone got sick. but by then rothko's vision was pretty much realized, and all he could do was help finish up the entrance. the de Menils knew what they wanted, and they back Rothko up all the way.

Posted by: Megan [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2008 10:32 AM

Thank youfor the photos Megan. Houston is one of my favorite places to look at art.

I was wondering if you got a chance to the excellent Turrell tranistion between new and old MFA buildings. The old MFA building was done by Mies Van Der Rohe not once but twice.

The De Menil is incomparable. Easily one of the best places to look at art on the planet. Between the De Menil, Twombly gallery, and the Rothko chapel it has some of the best art in the world.

Money and taste always makes a dangerous combination.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2008 11:15 AM

"he collection is also home to several works by another great Portlander, Robert Rauschenberg."
um. ok... so next are we going to nominate every family member of every resident as an official "Portlander"?

staying positive, Houston is an actual great place to see art and I hope you got a chance to get in more than just Sul Ross or you certainly missed out. Right behind you while you were snapping the stella sculpture is the glassell school of art which has a large central gallery. Just a quick walk down main to Lawndale. A few minutes down montrose to the galleries at 4400... A few blocks more to the Art League of Houston. a few blocks more to the buffalo bayou art park...Diverseworks... so so much more. commercial galleries, nonprofits, multidisciplanary spaces, contemporary , traditional... I'm glad you got to visit the menil it's a very special part of houston, but if you didn't really get to see at least a few of the very real institutions that comprise what a city with a real art scene looks like, i would say you came back to this town to fast.

Posted by: bam [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2008 10:07 AM

Thanks bam, that's so wrong it's funny... Robert doesnt live in Portland... his son Christopher does.

Must have been a type-o, I didn't read Megan's post before she posted it (which is our typical M.O.).

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2008 11:04 AM

hence the use of term family member.
it is good of you to admit that typos are your typical M.O.

Posted by: bam [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2008 12:11 PM

no more so,
than d.k. row...
sorry couldn't resist yo.

Posted by: bam [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2008 12:14 PM

oh no...

it's an endless rhyme scheme

it's gotta go.

but seriously, engaging our readers as proofreaders is part of the blog community experience... am exacited abou being om Movable Type 4 though beacuse it will allow some editorial proofing for long pieces (but urban honking just switched and had some technical difficulties though, we want our site to be a seamless transition)

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2008 12:37 PM

My bad! I was thinking of his son, I completely take the blame for that linguistic error.

To bam: I WISH I could have spent more time in those places. Truth is, it was a very short trip with a lot of my partner's familial obligations, and I only got two or three hours in about two days to break away. However, what I've seen of Houston has definitely made me antsy to go back and spend more time!

To Arcy: Money + taste hopefully = more patronage, which I think Portland could really use.

Posted by: Megan [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2008 01:49 PM

Thanks for the Houston recap! I think it's good to relate this level of art to where we are now in PDX. I'm all about Portland stepping it up 1 or 10 notches... "Please come collectors!" Start progressing P-town into a true center for contemporary art.

Posted by: harps [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 27, 2008 07:47 PM

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