The Menil Collection is a private collection of priceless artworks owned by wealthy local family, the de Menils. There are more than 16,000 paintings, decorative pieces, photographs, sculptures and drawings in this downtown museum.
John and Dominique de Menil were passionate about art. They began collecting in the 1940s. Works by some of the world’s greats such as Man Ray, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso are among their collection, as well as antiquities. The museum displays a selection of some of the best works, alongside temporary exhibitions from all over the world.
After her husband’s death in 1973, Dominique de Menil worked with prize-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano (responsible for the famous Pompidou Center in Paris) to design a museum almost as incredible as the collection itself. The ceiling is a wave-shaped “leaf” with steel trusses, a design that allows the gallery to be filled with natural light. Large glass windows, timber floors and indoor gardens create a natural setting.
The de Menils believed art should be an important part of everyone’s life, not just the wealthy, and for this reason entry to the museum is free. They were also firm believers that an individual’s opinion of art shouldn’t be influenced by others, so you won’t find explanatory texts on the walls, tours or audio guides. Many will find the focus on aesthetics and quiet contemplation refreshing. Pick up a book or brochure from the museum’s bookstore if you would like to find out more about the art.
The de Menil Foundation owns several blocks of the surrounding tree-lined neighborhood, and modern sculptures dot the landscape. It’s worth checking out the Cy Twombly Gallery and Richmond Hall for interesting art exhibitions, as well as the Rothko Chapel and Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum, built by the de Menil’s as spiritual sanctuaries.
The Menil Collection is open Wednesday through Sunday. Parking and admission are free.