06/19/17 2:30pm

YOU WON’T HAVE THE MENIL COLLECTION TO KICK AROUND FOR MOST OF NEXT YEAR Are you one of those architecturally sensitive types who has long suspected that the worn, squishy pine floorboards of Renzo Piano’s Menil Collection building were meant to serve as some sort of metaphor for the tenuous and uncertain nature of Houston’s oft-muddy groundplane? (Plus, they’ve got those underfloor AC registers interrupting it every few yards.) Well, good for you! — but tough luck: Beginning late next February, reports Molly Glentzer, the building will close for 8 months so that those well-worn floors can be refinished. Why should the job take so long? “The staff will continue to operate as usual from the upstairs offices, but some gallery walls will have to be dismantled and the collections shifted through the building during the sanding and finishing process.” Come November 2018, will the experience of walking through the museum be just as exquisitely unstable as it is now? Maybe not: “The leveling mechanisms under the wooden air-conditioning grills in the floor are also being upgraded,” Glentzer warns. Hurry and visit now, while it’s all still worn and creaky! [Houston Chronicle] Video of Sosie Merritt stomping on Menil floors, 2009: Brandon & Kristen Merritt [license]

01/05/17 4:30pm

Construction site at 1540 W. Alabama, WAMM, Houston, 77006Proposed Alabama Row Shopping Center, 1518 W. Alabama St., Montrose, HoustonA little brown box is now in place about where the gray and blue boxes of the Alabama Row retail strip are supposed to go, a reader notes. The construction trailer recently popped up inside the newish construction fencing now framing the long-empty lot along Mandell St. (across W. Alabama from the block holding the Menil Collection’s parking lot, and part of its bungalow herd). The new strip would sit just west of the 2-story brick house now holding cat spa and boarding facility Fat Cat Flats.

So far Alabama Row looks like it may be bookended by Vietnamese and burger joints, with room for some non-food offerings in the middle — that’s W. Alabama toward the bottom in the preliminary site plan below, with the strip’s parking tucked in back:

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Menil Munchies
11/01/16 4:00pm

NEW YORK FIRM PICKED FOR ROTHKO CHAPEL REDO Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman, Rothko Chapel, Menil Collection, HoustonThe board of the Rothko Chapel has recently pinned down Architecture Research Office for a planned redo of the chapel’s lighting system — which executive director David Leslie mentioned earlier this year has been on the board’s wishlist (possibly to be funded by that February Lynn Wyatt auction, which included couture clothing, art, and a Tilda Swinton Skype session).  The company will also update the HVAC system, “retool the entrance vestibule, and renovate the Chapel’s skylight,” writes Nicholas Korody. Also on the docket — a plan for modifications to the surrounding plaza and the reflecting pool where Broken Obelisk will once again sit (after those out-of-town repairs wrap up); Korody says the plan may also involve “several nearby bungalows.” [Archinect, via Curbed; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk and Rothko Chapel: Ed Uthman[license]

08/22/16 11:30am

Richmont Square apartments, 1400 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77006

Richmont Square apartments, 1400 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77006The remaining 2 thirds of the vacant Richmont Square complex are getting a few exterior decorating touches, a reader notes — among the increasingly wild parking lot median strips, many of the trees lining the Richmond-facing parking lot are sporting some new ribbons as of last week. The complex’s final tenants received an early-spring everybody-out notice, with the promise of demolition left hanging some time after the now-past May 1 move-out deadline.

What’s planned next for the space, once the last of the late-1960s apartment buildings are cleared out? Some clues come from the campus master plan map released in the Menil Collection’s 2014 annual report — 2 separate blocks south of the under-construction Drawing Institute are depicted where Richmont Square’s leftovers still stand, respectively hosting a wiggly-trailed park and a pale blue rectangle labeled for “future mixed-use” development:

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Menil Collection Curation
07/18/16 2:45pm

Menil Drawing Institute construction, July 2016

Proposed Menil Drawing Institute by Johnston Marklee, West Main St., Montrose, HoustonReader and mixed-media picture-maker Bob Russell sends along an update to his previous shots of the site of the Menil Drawing Institute, now preliminarily sketched into place in broad steel strokes. The framework shown at the top appears to be outlining that western interior courtyard that showed up in Johnston Marklee’s previous renderings of the building, which is going up where the now-level back third of the Richmont Square apartment complex once stood.

The Menil says construction should wrap up some time next year. Here’s a few more angles on all the angles already in place:

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Refining the Line Work
05/13/15 3:45pm

MENIL COLLECTION WINS SPECIAL APPROVAL FROM CITY OF HOUSTON TO PAVE LESS Planned Changes to Menil Collection, Showing Boundaries of Special Parking Area, Montrose, HoustonWith the approval granted by city council today, the 30-acre campus surrounding the Menil Collection now qualifies as Houston’s first-ever special parking area. The new status will allow the Menil to provide just 1.8 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. of gallery, bookstore, and classroom space within the district, rather than the 3 per 1,000 sq. ft. normally required under city ordinances. The rules would apply on the blocks bounded by W. Alabama, Mandell, Richmond, and Yupon and Graustark. A plan delineating these boundaries included in a parking study conducted for the Menil (above) shows — among other additions provided for in the institution’s new master plan — a new park on the middle portion of the site of the Richmont Square Apartments, immediately south of the Menil Drawing Institute, now under construction along an eastward extension of W. Main St. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Plan: Lockwood, Andrews, and Newnam (PDF) 

03/18/15 2:30pm

Proposed Alabama Row Shopping Center, 1518 W. Alabama St., Montrose, Houston

Is the park-in-back strip center now a certifiable thing in Houston? Here’s the latest rendering of the small shopping center designed by Ziegler Cooper Architects for the corner of W. Alabama St. and Mandell St. in Montrose, across the street from the Menil Collection parking lot. Like the smaller center at the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy now home to the Common Bond bakery and the slightly larger one developed by Braun Enterprises at 20th St. and Rutland in the Heights, Alabama Row scoots up just about as close to the main drag as the city’s development rules will let it. And it looks like the building’s south face, fronting West Alabama, is meant to be seen as its front:

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Alabama Row
02/09/15 11:45am

AND NOW, AN INCREASINGLY ABSTRACT VIEW OF WHAT IT’S LIKE TO WORK AT THE ROTHKO CHAPEL Alberto Sosa’s latest animated video interview of a starting-level employee in the Houston art world features visitor services and volunteer coordinator Yma Luis — and thousands of drawings. [Glasstire] Video: Alberto Sosa

01/29/15 3:30pm

Cleared Portion of Richmont Square Apartments, 1400 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston

The back third of the Menil-owned Richmont Square Apartments has now been cleared away. Left to dispose of: a below-grade swimming pool in the middle of the lot, plus a garage apartment behind the DaCamera building at 1427 Branard St., next door to the Menil’s Cy Twombly gallery. Swamplot reader and artist Bob Russell takes a break from creating his own satellite-imagery-inspired drawings to send in the above quick ground-level panorama of the sketchy spot where Johnston Marklee’s low-slung $40 million Menil Drawing Institute will be mapped out and filled in.

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Johnston Marklee Going Here
12/22/14 2:00pm

richmont-demo1

Behold Friday’s sodden wreckage of the northernmost 33 percent of the Richmont Square apartment complex at 1400 Richmond, which is currently being erased to make way for the Menil’s upcoming drawing institute.

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Menil On The Move
12/01/14 11:30am

TILDA GOES FULL MENIL Photo by Tim Walker of Tilda Swinton at the Menil Collection, HoustonFrom the looks of this W magazine fashion shoot with photographer Tim Walker, glacial space oddity Tilda Swinton managed to gaze upon and or fondle every objet d’art John and Dominique de Menil brought to Houston, be those treasures stashed away in their River Oaks home or on display in the Montrose museum. At the latter, while wafting through the South Seas galleries in a full-length Del Pozo coat, Swinton was in the mood to coo, ah and ooh. “They presumed art to be good for human dignity,” Swinton says of the de Menils to William Middleton, W correspondent and author of an upcoming biography on the arts patrons. “There is a practical magic that shows itself in the exquisite simplicity of each installation; there is nothing to get in the way of a direct relationship between the viewer and a work of art.” (With unfortunate results, in one high-profile recent case.) Swinton also donned “a painted metal corset by the London designer Johanna O’Hagan, a pair of black boots by Versace, and little else” in order to recreate Retour de la Belle Jardinière, Max Ernst’s 1967 reincarnation of his own La Belle Jardinière, a 1923 Surrealist near-nude that was later condemned as “degenerate art” by the Nazis and presumably destroyed. (The first Jardinière was itself Ernst’s reworking of a Raphael Madonna-and-Child painting by the same name.) The de Menils purchased Retour, thus affording Swinton and Walker the chance to shoot a retour of a retour of a retour of la Belle Jardinière. “This is the special magic of these collaborations,” Swinton tells Middleton, still clad in her skimpy Jardinière regalia. “There is not just a vague referencing of de Menil but also an immersion into her world. We’re crossing into a no-man’s-land between history and imagination, in an attempt to evoke her spirit, and the spirit of the world she inhabited.” [W ] Photo: Tim Walker / W magazine.

10/06/14 11:15am

THE MENIL COLLECTION GETS ITS RAP TRIBUTE The Menil Song CoverIn advance of their exhibition and performances next month at the Art League of Houston, where they’ll recreate 5 performances by the Art Guys, “while adding a twist that could only come from Black Guys,” artists and musicians Robert Hodge and Philip Pyle II released what appears to be the first-ever song about Houston’s Menil Collection — or at least the first one available on the iTunes Music Store (where it costs 99 cents, but you can preview a short segment for free). And over on Glasstire, Bill Davenport has helped out the auditorially challenged by transcribing (most of) the entertaining and insider-y rap-style lyrics, including the catchy chorus (“Riding by Menil slow, you don’t need no cash flow, we the only negroes, Hodge and Phil”). Sadly, no accompanying video has been released, but a note on the website of Everything Records indicates an album entitled presenting . . . The Black Guys is forthcoming. A solo show of Hodge’s paintings opened last Friday at the CAMH. [Glasstire; Everything Records] Cover art: The Black Guys

09/30/14 10:00am

SNIFFING OUT THE SUBTLE SECRETS OF THE ROTHKO CHAPEL Rothko Chapel, 3900 Yupon St., Montrose, HoustonExploring the Menil’s quiet, deep-purple monument, the Chronicle‘s Leah Binkovitz turns up a couple new lines of investigation: “In a turn Rothko, with his proscriptions for proper viewing, could never have anticipated, the chapel has its own Yelp page. ‘Whatever, some people don’t like to think too much about life and what our place is and if you’re one of those people, this isn’t the place for you,’ writes Eric J. in his recent review, ‘You need to head on down to Moody Gardens for “Pirates” or whatever.’ Inside, there’s a collection of Rothko paintings — dark and turbid — that surround the viewer. When the sun sifting through the clerestory shifts, the purple panels shine like scars. People meditate on cushions on the ground or lean against each other on the benches. The occasional crinkle of a plastic bag breaks the silence. There’s a smell, a specific Rothko Chapel smell. That’s the first thing two dashing young men in khaki shorts comment on when they leave the chapel.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Ed Uthman [license; cropped]

06/25/14 2:30pm

DRESSING UP THE MENIL HOUSE, SCARING THE ARCHITECT AWAY Dressing Room of Menil House, Decorated by Charles James, 3363 San Felipe St., Houston“Philip [Johnson] felt we should have a Mies van der Rohe settee, a Mies van der Rohe glass table and two Mies van der Rohe chairs on a little musty-colored rug,” explained Dominique de Menil about the distinctive yet undeniably Miesian modern home at 3363 San Felipe St. the already-somewhat-famous museum curator-turned-architect had designed for her and her husband. “We wanted something more voluptuous.” And so in 1950 the first family of Schlumberger hired Mr. Voluptuous himself, the dress designer Charles James, to create the new home’s interiors — something he had never done before, and never would do again. How’d that turn out? Here’s Joanna McCutcheon, giving some background to the Menil Collection’s current exhibition featuring clothing and furniture James designed for his patron: “Upon entering the house — a clean, strictly modernist construction of brick, steel and glass, he immediately demanded that the ceilings be raised 10 inches. He wanted additional room to facilitate his plan of coating the walls in lurid felt and velvet. . . . The walls of the Johnson house were swaddled in dyed felts, while dark spaces were illuminated with shocking colour. Horrified, Johnson refused to include the house in his portfolio for decades afterwards.” [Disegno Daily] Photo of Menil House dressing room: Menil Collection

04/07/14 11:00am

Construction of Bistro Menil, 1512 Sul Ross St., Montrose, Houston

Construction of Bistro Menil, 1512 Sul Ross St., Montrose, HoustonWhatever the original plans were for the partial demolition of the gray-painted 1940 bungalow that sat across the street from the Menil Collection and across the footpath to the West Alabama St. parking lot from the Menil Bookstore, they appear to have been exceeded. A reader sends in these photos of the construction site at 1512 Sul Ross St.; they show that the woodframe structure intended for “adaptive reuse” into a new Bistro Menil according to a design by Stern and Bucek Architects has been removed entirely.

The Menil had announced plans for the bungalow-to-bistro conversion at that spot last October, in concert with an upgrade of the parking-lot path into a “new campus gateway” designed by landscape firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. “In keeping with the emphasis on sustainability that is a keynote of the landscape design,” read a Menil press release, “the Menil’s café is designed by Stern and Bucek through the adaptive reuse of one of the bungalows that define the character of the Menil’s campus.” The press release also noted that the Menil’s architect, Renzo Piano, had originally proposed putting a café in this exact location. Since named (via a contest) Bistro Menil, the arts institution’s first eating spot is set to be run by Café Annie, Taco Milagro, and Café Express alum Greg Martin.

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Leaving Only Footprints