We’ve only just sprung spring, yet Houston is well on our way through another major year of arts and entertainment venue openings. Unfortunately, the one space we’ve been anticipating for four years now, The Menil Drawing Institute, won’t quite be ready for our welcome-to-the-neighborhood visit until fall. The Menil Collection, however, seems eager to show off their progress and recently offered a media preview of all the construction action. So if you don’t mind architectural spoilers, here’s a sneak peek at the next great visual art space coming to Houston.
In 2012, during it 25th anniversary year, the Menil Collection launched a $115 million campaign in support of their masterplan with goals that included the construction of the MDI building, the expansion of green spaces across the Menil campus and to increase the endowment so that the Menil will always remain free to the public.
“Our masterplan has given us a blueprint how to treat the rest of the campus and that is to do more what we’re already good at: open, un-programmed and pedestrian friendly green spaces; individual buildings for art, set in a residential neighborhood; meandering approaches to those pavilions filled with light and air and above all accessibility, not monumentality, not formality,” described Sheryl Kolasinski, the Menil Collections’s deputy director and chief operating officer.
Now five years later, in the year of their 30th anniversary, $105 million has been raised and many of the goals of the masterplan, like the new campus entryway and opening of Bistro Menil, has been realized with the other major component the Menil Drawing Institute on pace to open October 7.
Inside the MDI
The Menil Drawing Institute was first conceived to house the Collection’s vast holdings of works on paper, but the $40 million, 30,000 square-foot building will also for serve as a place for scholarship and as an important gallery space for drawing exhibitions.
“The Menil Drawing Institute will ensure the continuing exhibition and close study of drawing” said Menil director Rebecca Rabinow, adding that the MDI building was especially designed with “spaces for display, study, conservation and storage of modern and contemporary drawings.”
The multi-use facility proved something of a challenge, explained architect, Sharon Johnston, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based architecture firm, Johnston Marklee, in that they were charged to “create a welcoming, generous and transparent building to house one of the most delicate mediums of artistic practice, which is works on paper.” But it is was a design challenge they believe they met when they began to think of the project as a collection of rooms created for those multiple purposes the whole building would have.
As construction on the MDI building has advanced, other projects have recently been completed including the extension of West Main Street along the south side of the building and the new Energy House, the central environmental-sustainable utilities plant serving the entire Menil campus. There are even plans to eventually project films onto the Energy House’s east wall during outdoor events.
During April and May the construction team will finish the installation of the steel canopies that frame the exterior of the MDI building. When the exterior nears completion, the major landscaping initiatives will continue with white oak trees planted in the courtyards.
Work on the interior will proceed for several more months. Johnston Marklee has also designed customer furniture, including benches, tables and ottomans, all inspired by elements of the building’s structure. Prototypes of some of the new furniture will be on display in the main building as part of the exhibition, The Beginning of Everything: Drawings from the Janie C. Lee, Louisa Stude Sarofim, and David Whitney Collections.
Art to Come
While the Menil prepares for the public opening of the MDI building in the fall, the great 30th anniversary celebration has already begun with some unique only-at-the-Menil exhibitions. To help the public fully understand the art of drawing and breadth of medium, the Menil has already premiered the aforementioned Beginning of Everything, an exhibition of nearly a hundred drawings including works by Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Rachel Whiteread and Bruce Nauman.
In August, look for a special 30th anniversary presentation of 30 works from the Collection that represent an important aspect of the Menil’s history and mission. These installations will be located throughout the main building and in other spaces on the campus.
The MDI building officially opens October 7 with the inaugural exhibition, The Condition of Being Here: Drawings by Jasper Johns, welcoming Houstonians into the city’s newest art home. This career survey of the drawings by Johns will be organized from the gifts promised to the Menil Collection by Janie C. Lee and Louisa Stude Sarofim, works from the bequest of David Whitney, and select loans from the artist. The exhibition runs October 7-December 31.