New Menil Director

Houston-bred arts leader is named Menil Collection's first woman director

Houston-bred arts leader is named Menil's first woman director

Rebecca Rabinow Menil Collection director
Rebecca Rabinow will become the fifth director of The Menil Collection and its first woman director. Photo courtesy of Menil Collection

The Board of Trustees of The Menil Collection has selected a Houston-bred arts leader to helm the museum as it enters a critical phase of growth and development.

Rebecca Rabinow, who volunteered at the Menil after graduating from Smith College in 1988, will become the fifth permanent director — and the first woman director of the museum, which was launched as a result of the strong vision of founder Dominique de Menil.

Rabinow has carved out a long career at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which she joined in 1990 and where one of her longtime colleagues was current Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Gary Tinterow. She is currently the Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Modern Art and Curator in Charge of the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art at The Met.

Among the notable exhibitions that she organized at The Met were "Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection (2014-15)," "Matisse, In Search of True Painting (2012-13)," and "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde (2012)." She also co-organized the 2007 renovation and reinstallation of The Met’s Galleries for Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture. 

Rabinow will replace previous Menil director, Josef Helfenstein, who stepped down at the end of 2015 after a 12-year tenure to become director of the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland. Rabinow will assume her duties at the Menil in July.

Rabinow grew up in Houston, where her father was the president of Exxon's oil pipeline subsidiary and her mother was a former president of the Children's Museum of Houston. She graduated from the St. John's School, received a BA from Smith College and studied at the Sorbonne and the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where she received master's of arts and doctorate degrees.

Rabinow, 49, is married to music management professional Matt Ringel and has two teenage sons.

She recalled her volunteer work at the Menil soon after the museum opened in 1988, where her duties were to preserve the correspondence of John and Dominique de Menil by placing it in Mylar sleeves.

"However cut-and-dried that might sound, their letters radiated such a sense of history, mission, and creativity that I was hooked on the first day. It is abundantly clear to me that the Menil set me on my career path. I am deeply honored now to return to Houston, an exciting, vibrant, and diverse city that will soon be the third largest in the United States, and to advance the distinctive and immeasurably important artistic and social missions of the Menil Collection," Rabinow said in a statement.

Mark Wawro, who chaired the search committee for the Menil, said that Rabinow stood out in "an extremely strong field of candidates" and was the committee's unanimous choice. "She is a superstar in experience and personality, but more than anything else has a genuine connection to the values the Menil holds dear," he said in a statement.

One of Rabinow's first tasks will be fundraising. She needs to bring in an additional $20 million to complete a $110 million capital campaign, which the museum hopes to complete by the time the new Menil Drawing Institute opens next year. The $40 million project, billed as the "the first free-standing facility in the U.S. built for the conservation, study, exhibition and storage of works on paper," is currently under construction behind the freestanding Cy Twombly Gallery.