Saturday, February 12, 2011


I'd certainly never realised that Houston is such an attractive city ... and one of its gems is the Menil Collection, housed in a stunning building designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop - all simple grey and white lines, and girders, and wavy strips of ceiling louvers that let in the light in slanting ways.   The collection was put together by John and Dominique de Menil from the 1940s onwards, and is a wonderful mixture of surrealism and Abstract Expressionism - big Rothko try-out panels for the Rothko chapel just up the road in medatively sombre crimson and black; a couple of rooms of early Vija Celmins work - "Television and Disaster" - hands shooting pistols, a forest fire, burning planes - all in dull dark grey and light beiges; a handful of Max Ernsts, with birds perched in odd corners; a Magritte that I don't think I've ever seen reproduced, "La clef de verre," from 1959, showing a huge boulder balancing in a shaley mountain landscape; and a great room of variegated things that actually did inspire, or might have inspired, the Surrealists, including a whole shelf of optical entertainments - a phenakistoscope, a camera obscura, a phantasmagoria, a stereoscope, an anamorphoscope, a thaumatrope, a zoetrope.   Wife to husband: "so ... what are they?"   Husband, confidently: "They're old cameras."   Wife, tentatively: "Ummm - I'm not sure ..."   Husband, recognizing (probably a rare occurence), that he might be wrong: "Well, o.k., that one might be a kaleidoscope ...".

And then, just up the street, was a whole pavilion - all light and white walls - devoted entirely to huge Cy Twombly canvases.

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