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Crazy talk: The Menil's new irreverent conversation series promises to be something wild

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Cy Twombly Gallery Menil Collection
Cy Twombly's 1988 series Untitled (A Painting in Nine Parts) will be just one a several works discussed in the inaugural A Common Language event. Courtesy photo

The Menil Collection unveils its new series A Common Language on Wednesday night, bringing together three artists from different disciplines to vamp on particular pieces of art from the museum.

The inaugural chat features a trio of Houston notables — poet Tony Hoagland, painter Carl Palazzolo and pianist Sarah Rothenberg — all of whom will attempt to push beyond their areas of expertise to find a sort of artistic common ground.

CultureMap had a chance to walk with the group as they selected works to cover during their upcoming talk. Judging from the artists' frank discussions on 1980s bad boy painters Eric Fischl and Julian Schnabel, attendees should brace themselves for an evening of enlightening, entertaining and sometimes irreverent conversation.

"We wanted to see what happens when we bring together all these different vocabularies." 

"I don't know what's going to happen really," laughes Hoagland, who currently teaches in the University of Houston's creating writing program. "We wanted to see what happens when we bring together all these different vocabularies, how they complicate and clarify each other. Hopefully, the latter."

Menil public programming director Karl Kilian explains that the new series evolved from The Artist's Eye — a decade-long program during which a local artist would present work from the Menil that he or she felt was a source of inspiration.

"I asked Carl [Palazzolo] to do it several times and he always turned it down. He finally said, 'I don't want to talk by myself, I want to have a conversation.' At that point, we'd been doing the series for 10 years and maybe it was time to try something new."

Kilian decided to add not one, but two additional artists to the mix. "And then we felt they should all come from different backgrounds, instead of three painters talking about painting."

A quick trip to the Cy Twombly Gallery initiated a fresh round of heated discussion that reached a fever pitch as the group selected the final work for their speaking event — a room of untitled green Twombly paintings from the late 1980s.

A Common Language debuts at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The program is free and open to the public.

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