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.


Leaving Only Footprints
04/01/14 5:15pm

1202 Milford St., Museum District, Houston

1202 Milford St., Museum District, Houston

The few interior photos included in the listing of William F. Stern’s house at the corner of Milford and Mt. Vernon show the 1990 structure stripped of most of its furnishings — but with much of its famed artwork still on the walls. Are those paintings museum-quality, though? Certifiably, it turns out: Stern, who passed away a year ago from pancreatic cancer, willed the house and its artwork to the Menil Collection. The Menil is accepting all the art into its collection, but put the house on the market last month — with an asking price of $1.475 million.


Paintings Without a Home
02/19/14 1:15pm

Proposed Menil Drawing Institute by Johnston Marklee, West Main St., Montrose, Houston

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.


A New Menil, Facing West Main St.
12/09/13 12:15pm

SOAKING IT UP IN TEXAS Piano Pavilion at Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TexasBack in Texas for the grand opening of his new “pavilion” for the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth — a design the institution liked so much they decided to name the building after its architect — the loquacious Renzo Piano has a few comments for Dallas writer Betsy Lewis about the Houston landscape: “You may be used to the light in Texas, but it’s a special light. It’s brilliant, stronger than usual. I remember actually one of the first things we did when I came in ’80, Dominique de Menil told me, ‘I want to go to Israel because I’ve been told that Israel is the same light as Texas.’ I don’t know why she said that. By the way, it was not true. But it is true that Israel has a strong light. But in Texas it’s also because of the latitude, because of the absence of mountains, and the clouds and the nature. Nature is also very spatial. It’s flat. When you plant a tree in Texas, it grows up. It’s a real forest. That there’s something in the water in Texas is probably true. Sometimes people believe that countries are different because of funny trees, but anyway . . . There’s something in the water as well. I’m joking. I’m talking about the water table. But anyway things are special in Texas.” [Glasstire] Photo of Piano Pavilion, Fort Worth: Glasstire

11/04/13 11:30am

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.


10/10/13 10:35am

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.


06/14/13 10:00am

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.”


01/16/13 10:15am

THE ART GUYS GO TO THE LIBRARY A Swamplot reader says that the eponymous live oak (shown at right) in “The Art Guys Marry a Plant,” acquired by the Menil Collection in 2011, has been uprooted from Menil Park. Art Guy Jack Massing “didn’t want to say where the tree has gone,” reports the Houston Chronicle: “‘We’ve got it all taken care of,’ he said.” Instead, he wanted to talk about the Art Guys’ 30 years of working together; they’re planning “12 Events:” a year of once-a-month “behaviors” beginning on January 23 with a marathon autograph session at the Julia Ideson Library on McKinney: “They see signatures as something both basic and profound that’s evolved from the simplest mark making — drawing a line — into a legally-binding expression of identity. ‘People say they can’t draw, yet they have a signature. It’s a way of drawing your identity with a linguistic connection so you can be relevant in the world,’ Massing said. ‘It’s simple and basic, and yet incredibly profound.'” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Robert Boyd

01/14/13 10:00am

BREAKING UP WITH THE ART GUYS Will the newest installation at the Menil Collection be a hole in the ground? The Art Guys were told last week that the museum intends to remove the live oak they “married” in 2009 in “The Art Guys Marry a Plant,” a public ceremony at the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden at the MFA,H. The museum acquired the tree in 2011 and held another public ceremony when it was planted in Menil Park on Branard St.; the little site (shown at right) backs up to the bamboo grove walling off the park from the Rothko Chapel and Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk.” [Houston Press] Photo: Robert Boyd

06/11/12 12:04pm

Brave Architecture’s new Sicardi Gallery across from the Menil parking lot is “pretty amazing,” declares Glasstire art critic Kelly Klaasmeyer, who was there for Thursday’s opening opening. The 2-story 5,800-sq.-ft. stucco-and-steel structure is a big step up from the gallery’s small previous space next to the McClain Gallery on Richmond. That lone window on the second floor of the new building facing West Alabama is designated as a rear-projection screen for exhibited videos, but they’re not showing yet:


06/08/12 11:21am

L.A. architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee will be the designers of the Menil Collection’s new Drawing Institute building, the organization’s board announced late yesterday. Their firm, Johnston Marklee, beat out Tatiana Bilbao, SANAA, and David Chipperfield Architects for the commission. The exact location for the building hasn’t been decided yet, though a Menil spokesperson previously told Swamplot the southern portion of the campus (depicted above in a Johnston Marklee graphic) was likely, and the Menil’s description of the LA firm’s design proposal makes it clear it’ll be long and thin: “a single-story, metal-roofed structure . . . built around a trio of courtyards.”


05/10/12 10:21am

Here’s a view of the 4-story, 93,760-sq.-ft. performing arts center the University of St. Thomas plans to build on the northwest corner of its Montrose campus, on the full city block bounded by West Alabama, Yupon, Sul Ross, and Graustark. A feature article on the project in the university’s magazine describes the site provocatively as being “adjacent to the Menil Collection,” but it’s really catty-corner to the Menil block that contains the Rothko Chapel, a long block east of the Menil’s famed shielded-by-bungalows main building. In the drawing above you’re looking at the new UST center from high above the Rothko Chapel’s east lawn, toward the corner of Sul Ross and Yupon.


04/13/12 12:34pm

Where exactly on the Menil Collection campus in Montrose will the new 18,000-sq.-ft. Drawing Institute building be built? That’s for one of 4 architecture firms to decide. The organization announced late yesterday that Mexico City architect Tatiana Bilbao, LA’s Johnston Marklee, 2010 Pritzker Prize winner SANAA from Tokyo, and Menil master plan designer David Chipperfield Architects are the finalists to get the commission. Chipperfield’s 2009 plan for the campus doesn’t dictate a particular site for the new structure, which will combine exhibition areas, offices, storage, and conservation space for the Menil’s growing collection of drawings. But a Menil spokesperson tells Swamplot that the southern portion of the campus is a likely location, and that the building’s footprint “will be similar to that of the Twombly Gallery.”

Photo of Richmond Hall and Richmont Square Apartments on Richmond Ave: Raj Mankad

01/11/12 12:01pm

The Sicardi Gallery’s impending move to its new Brave Architecture building currently under construction at the corner of West Alabama and Mulberry in Montrose (above) should send a few ripples through the local gallery landscape, art blogger Robert Boyd notes. Headed for the current Sicardi Gallery space at 2246 Richmond (across the street from Blue Fish House and the Hobbit Cafe), according to Boyd’s sources, will be Thom Andriola’s New Gallery: