The Foundation was created in the 1960s in the Houston area by John and Dominique de Menil who ran the museum until the death of Dominique de Menil in December 1997. The Menils’ combined wealth and love of art led them inevitably to want to create a place where people could come together and enjoy all that art had given them.
The Foundation started life in bungalow-style homes, with each painted the same shade of grey to establish commonality. In 2013, Michael Van Valkenburgh, a landscape architect, was appointed to enhance and expand the 30-acre campus. The Foundation’s diverse collection includes some 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and rare books. Its stated aim is to promote understanding and culture, primarily through the arts.
Artworks range from early to mid-twentieth century works by artists such as Yves Tanguy, Rene Magritte, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, as well as an extensive collection of pop and contemporary art from Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Vija Celmins and Cy Twombly among others. The full extent of the collection’s diversity is demonstrated by the Foundation’s permanent collection of Byzantine, Medieval and Tribal art.
In addition to the main building, the museum has two satellite galleries: the Cy Twombly Gallery (designed by the Italian architect, Renzo Piano) and Richmond Hall which houses the Dan Flavin Installation, Dominique de Menil’s last commission. Dan Flavin’s permanent site-specific installation was completed just two days before his death in 1996.
The installation’s fluorescent light tubes radiate an environment and atmosphere which has been likened to both ‘carnival and cathedral’ by the Boston Globe. The Menil Foundation includes two additional buildings:
- the Byzantine Fresco Chapel displays two Byzantine frescoes dating back to the 13thcentury. These were purchased and restored with permission from the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and are exhibited on a long-term loan;
- the Rothko Chapel, built-in 1971, as a non-denominational chapel. Its entrance contains books from various religious traditions, while inside there are kneeling mats, prayer benches, and meditation cushions, as well as 14 works by the Russian born American painter, Mark Rothko.
South of the entrance is a reflecting pool installed in the memory of Martin Luther King which contains a distinctive sculpture by Barnett Newman.