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]
A 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:
The 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:
Reader 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:
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.
THE MENIL COLLECTION GETS ITS RAP TRIBUTE In 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
SNIFFING OUT THE SUBTLE SECRETS OF THE ROTHKO CHAPEL Exploring 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]
Whatever 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.
The Menil Collection released details of the low-slung design L.A. architects Johnston Marklee have put together for the new Menil Drawing Institute, which is being touted as the “first freestanding facility in the United States created especially for the exhibition, study, storage, and conservation of modern and contemporary drawings.” And staring at the renderings, the institute’s future sure looks bright. There’s the bright exterior walls, lit by the Houston sun; the white steel-plate roof that’s supposed to look like it’s hovering over the building and 2 surrounding courtyards — “rather like a folded sheet of paper,” in the architects’ words. But the inside of the building, where the drawings are displayed, it’s going to be dark.
The new Menil Drawing Institute building, being designed by LA architects Johnston Marklee (winners of last year’s competition), will sit on land currently occupied by the Menil’s Richmont Square apartment building. The arts institution doesn’t have plans to tear down the entire apartment complex, however: Drawings submitted to the planning commission as part of a variance application show only the northernmost bank — at the back of the site — wiped clean.
Architecture firm Stern and Bucek has come up with this rendering of the Menil Collection’s new cafe, part of the free museum’s long-planned expansion of its Montrose campus. The design for the cafe — which is yet to be named but will be run by Greg Martin (of Cafés Annie and Express and Taco Milagro) — appears to adapt and elaborate upon the gray bungalow at 1512 Sul Ross St., on the other side of that path from the Menil Bookstore; this is the same site, says a press release from the Menil Collection, that architect Renzo Piano originally had in mind for a similar amenity. So there’s that. Whatever it’ll be called, the cafe, it appears, will split the difference between the museum’s main entrance and the parking lot off W. Alabama.
As many as 8 new bike-sharing stations could open inside the Loop in the next 2 weeks. Will Rub, director of Houston B-Cycle, tells Swamplot that permits are in hand and the bikes forthcoming for these 5 stations: Spotts Park, at 401 S. Heights Blvd; the intersection of Taft and Fairview, at 2401 Taft St.; the Menil Collection, at 1529 W. Alabama St.; Leonel Castillo Community Center, which is undergoing a restoration at 2109 South St.; and the intersection of Milam and Webster, at 2215 Milam St.
And Rub adds that 3 other locations are just waiting for their permits: Stude Park, at 1031 Stude St., and 2 others east, for the first time, of the Southwest Fwy.: Settegast Park at Garrow and Palmer in the Second Ward, and Project Row Houses at Holman and Live Oak in the Third Ward. Rub expects those to be ready to roll September 19th or 20th.
The Menil Collection has picked a landscape architecture firm, and the museum says that the long-awaited master-planned reshaping of its 30-acre Montrose spread will get going this September. The firm belongs to Michael Van Valkenburgh, who’s done some tinkering previously at Harvard Yard and Pennsylvania Avenue. Apparently, the first item of business he’ll tackle here is the parking lot off W. Alabama: “[It] really needs attention,” Menil director Josef Helfenstein tells the Houston Chronicle. “It’s the first thing you see.”