Menil Drawings

Houston art collectors donate 110 important works to new Menil Drawing Institute

Houstonians donate 110 important works to new Menil Drawing Institute

Jasper Johns, Flag on an Orange Field drawing
Among the important works of art promised to the Menil Drawing Institute are a drawing of Jasper Johns' Flag on Orange Field, 1957. © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York, NY

The new Menil Drawing Institute, scheduled to open next year, suddenly got a treasure trove of important artwork to add to its already impressive collection.

Menil Collection trustees Louisa Stude Sarofim and Janie C. Lee have promised the new institute 110 important modern and contemporary drawings from their collections, the museum announced late Thursday. Both avid art collectors, each plans to donate 55 drawings from a range of noted artists.

The impressive cache, which will be bequeathed to the Menil at the donors' deaths, includes 15 drawings by Jasper Johns, dating from 1954 to 2012 and representing every decade of his career. The museum currently has one drawing acquired by John and Dominique de Menil, and 17 given by David Hay Whitney in 2005. The Menil Drawing Institute plans to publish a catalogue of Johns drawings next year.

The 110 promised gifts represent the work of 41 artists, who range chronologically from Paul Cézanne and Edgar Degas in the late 19th century to Piet Mondrian, Balthus, and Georgia O’Keeffe in the mid-20th century to Robert Gober and Terry Winters in the present, the museum detailed in a press release.

Among the highlights are:

  • 4 drawings by Willem de Kooning from the crucial period between 1945 and 1953, when the Woman series of paintings was being developed
  • 9 Jackson Pollock drawings (the earliest from 1939 and the latest from 1951) that trace his development from Surrealism into what would become Abstract Expressionism
  • 8 drawings by Brice Marden, representing every decade in the production of an artist who cites his 1972 visit to the Rothko Chapel—an initiative of John and Dominique de Menil—as formative to his development
  • 3 important drawings by Richard Serra (from 1971, 1980, and 1993) that demonstrate how integral the medium has been to his practice, and that build on major acquisitions of Serra drawings made by the Menil in 2011 and 2012
  • 4 drawings by Eva Hesse (from 1964, 1966, and 1967) that complement a 1960 Hesse given in 2011 by Sally and Wynn Kramarsky in honor of Bernice Rose
  • a suite of 24 drawings by Bruce Nauman made in or around 1965, at the beginning of his mature artistic practice, which would generate some of his most consequential sculptures
  • 5 major unique works on paper by Robert Rauschenberg, including a collage and a Black Painting on paper from 1952, which add to a stellar collection of early Rauschenberg
  • 4 Agnes Martin drawings, which will join another two (both from 1977) already in the Menil’s holdings.

The museum established the Menil Drawing Institute (MDI) in 2008. Among its current holding are important drawings by Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly.

Sarofim, Menil board chair and life trustee, previously donated such works as "Tablet (1948-73)" by Ellsworth Kelly, and a suite of 188 framed works on paper to the museum. Lee, a former Houston art gallery owner and curator, told the New York Times she began collecting drawings because that was what she could afford but soon realized they were a crucial part of many artists' work. Over the years, she amassed her impressive collection.

These works will be housed in a free-standing $40 million building designed by the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee, currently under construction just behind the Cy Twombly Gallery.