Drawings, which have long been a strength of the storied Menil Collection, will step into the spotlight when the Houston museum unveils its new 30,000-square-foot Menil Drawing Institute next month. It will be one of the country’s only freestanding dedicated drawing institutions.
“For many artists, historically, drawing was an end in and of itself,” Menil director Rebecca Rabinow told the Wall Street Journal Magazine, arguing that it is a mistake to consider the medium simply as a preparatory step in the production of paintings or sculptures. “To have an entire building devoted to [drawing] says something to the general public.”
The new facility has been in the works since 2009, when the Menil commissioned London’s David Chipperfield Architects to create a master site plan for the museum. In 2012, Los Angeles architectural firm Johnston Marklee, made up of partners Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, got the nod over Chipperfield to design the new building.
Dominique and John Menil began amassing their collection the in the 1930s, moving to Houston from France and bringing an eclectic range of art to what was then considered a cultural backwater. Their museum, by Renzo Piano in the Italian architect’s first US commission, opened a couple of miles from their Philip Johnson-designed Houston home in 1987.
The museum has expanded considerably over the past 30 years, adding a Cy Twombly gallery, the Rothko Chapel, and other exhibition spaces, as well as a cafe and bookstore, to the original 10,000 square feet. More recently, it closed for seven months for a renovation project and reopened on September 22 with refinished floors and a rehang of the collection that highlighted many works that had never been displayed before.
Johnston and Lee’s new building sits in the center of the 30-acre Menil campus, envisioned as a harmonious addition to the existing structures. Special attention had to be paid to lighting to protect delicate drawings from harsh natural light, with sun-blocking steel canopies.
There is also a state-of-the-art anti-flooding system, with floodgates in the storage facilities and a drainage basin below the exhibition gallery—Houston was hit hard by last year’s Hurricane Harvey, and although the Menil didn’t suffer any flood damage, the new facility was delayed a year in part to make adjustments accounting for potential natural disasters.
The Menil Drawing Institute will now open November 3 with “The Condition of Being Here: Drawings by Jasper Johns” (on view through January 27, 2019), accompanied by a six-volume catalogue raisonné of Johns’s drawings.
See more photographs of the new Menil Drawing Institute and the rest of the Houston campus below.
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