Day Trips: Menil Collection, Houston

This summer, one of the Bayou City’s most interesting collections of art celebrates its 30th anniversary

Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

The Menil Collection is an oasis, even among Houston's world-class art museums. Somehow the two-block park that is the art museum's central campus seems 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the city.

Opened 30 years ago this summer, the collection of more than 16,000 pieces of art and artifacts is almost impossible to put a label on. A gift to the city, the treasures were once the private collection of John and Dominique de Menil. The artistic creativity of the works stretches from the medieval to the modern and contemporary.

The museum also attracts astounding traveling exhibitions. There's something exciting about coming face-to-face with the original works of Max Ernst, Picasso, or Salvador Dalí. The raining men in trench coats of René Magritte's Golconda seem so much livelier in person than in a reproduction.

The experience of the building is so much more than the sum of its parts. The galleries connected by a long hallway radiate a serenity like a cathedral flooded in natural light. And within the campus are two actual chapels. The meditative Rothko Chapel uses color, space, and sound to soothe the likes of Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Across the street from the nondenominational chapel is the Byzantine Fresco Chapel housing a site-specific work of art.

The Menil Collection is at 1533 Sul Ross St., southwest of downtown Houston in the Montrose neighborhood. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 7pm and admission is always free. The campus also includes the Bistro Menil and Menil Bookstore. Three other Menil galleries orbiting the main building offer additional opportunities to explore the universe of creativity.

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Menil Collection, Houston, John de Menil, Dominique de Menil, art museums, Montrose, Byzantine Fresco Chapel, Rothko Chapel

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