When they were fleeing their home in wartime Paris, John and Dominique de Menil left behind a painting by Max Ernst, wrapped in brown paper and stuck on a shelf, entitled “Portrait of Dominique.” They later retrieved it and went on to collect one of the most significant art collections of the 20th century. It comprises nearly 15,000 works dating from the Paleolithic era to contemporary. As ex-pats living in Houston, they could have easily established a museum in their homeland (and were frantically courted by the French to do so). Instead, they chose Houston and commissioned architect Renzo Piano (who designed the Pompidou Center) to create a building to house the de Menil collection.
Other impressive spaces included in this campus setting are The Rothko Chapel with mural canvasses by abstract expressionist Mark Rothko and the Cy Twombly Gallery (we love to go there with our iPod and listen to music while we hone in on the meaning of Twombly's scribbles). Also on the grounds: One of only two permanent Dan Flavin installations in America and a chapel which displays the only two 13th-century Byzantine frescoes in the entire western hemisphere. All of this is free of charge. The experience: Priceless.
Keep your eyes open. When celebs come to Houston, they nearly always stop by the Menil. We've spotted Gwyneth Paltrow, Francis Ford Coppola and Andre Leon Talley.