Menil Collection – Houston, TX
While in Houston we stopped to visit the Menil Collection museum. It is a museum directly adjacent to the Rothko Chapel. I found that the Rothko Chapel was not my cup of tea, so Allison and I decided to check out the Menil Collection. I was immediately excited just approaching the building. The museum is what you might call classy and is in a nice neighborhood with wonderful foliage.
I’m an artist myself, so the artists in the Museum were mostly familiar to me. Most art in the museum can be grouped into the modern art category, though there are some rooms with great ancient art as well. In fact the ancient art was the highlight for me, but more about that in a bit…
The collection is impressive and boasts many big names: Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne…etc. The most extensive collection is surrealism, I am interested in the work of Dali and Magritte in particular and the collection of Magritte works is very strong. I was glad to see the painting of a room with an apple filling it’s entirety: “The Listening Room”. “The Listening Room” was used as the cover of a Jeff Beck album, and being a fan of classic rock, I was excited to see it. Other surrealists featured prominently are Yves Tanguy and Max Ernst.
Throughout the collection there are various Picasso’s but I would not place them among his strongest works. Since museums rotate their collections you could see something that I did not.
I have become more and more interested in ancient art, including Greek and Roman art. There were some mummy portrait encaustics (encaustic is a style of painting done with wax and pigment) from around the turn of the century. These mummy portraits were mostly done by Romans occupying Egypt and occurred to about the 3rd century A.D. The mummy portraits were done on wood panel often placed in the wrapping material itself and essentially displayed the face of the mummy before his or her death, they appear to be painted from live subjects so they do not have a creapy death mask quality. The subjects seem vibrant and alive. As some of the oldest surviving portrait paintings I was excited to see them.
I enjoyed the Menil but many of the artists are not artists I have been looking at lately. If you like modern art, and surrealism in particular, it is certainly worth the free visit.