First Menil men's mixer combines art and billiards
In 1984, Dominique de Menil told William Hill that the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston needed to do something to get men interested in collecting art.
"She said, 'If you don't bring the corporate men in, you are not going to succeed," Hill recalled.
So Hill was instrumental in establishing "One Great Night in November," an annual "men-only" evening that has raised millions for the MFAH over the past quarter-century. "It opened doors to every corporate board in the city," Hill said.
The Alley Theatre recently adopted the "men only mixer" and now, so has the Menil Collection, where Hill serves on the board.
The first "Men of Menil" mixer Wednesday night transformed Richmond Hall into a clubby scene, with five billiards tables and pool experts Dave "The Ginger Wizard" Pearson, Tom "Dr. Cue" Rossman and Rise Smith offering tips. The black-tie crowd dined on a hearty meat-heavy meal — grilled lamb chops and beef tenderloin from Jackson and Company (with waiters serving "seconds" on gigantic platters) — amid the minimalist fluorescent light installation by Dan Flavin. (It was the final work of art that Dominique de Menil commissioned before her death in 1997.)
"How many times have you dined inside the middle of a piece of art?" said Hill, who co-chaired the evening with Richard Schnieders.
Among the heavy hitters: Menil director Josef Helfenstein, former Mayor Bill White, Eric Pulaski, John Guess Jr., Jay Jones, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, Keith Spickelmier, Peter Brown, Andrew Echols, Rich Levy, Craig Massey and Francois de Menil, who thought his mother would have been amused by the evening's activities.
"In its past this building had been a saloon. So she was enamored with the idea of taking a saloon and making it into an art space," Francois de Menil said. "It's been reincarnated as a saloon tonight."
After dinner, guests played more billiards and gathered in an outside tent for coffee, cognac, whiskey and cigars.
The evening netted $250,000 for the Menil's education, community outreach and exhibition programs. Contributors will also be acknowledge at the upcoming Menil exhibition, Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage.
Just as important, Hill believes the mixer helped to raise the Menil's profile. "People think of the Menil as this elitist group that doesn't need any money. But we're in the same boat as everybody else. You've got to bring new people in. It's very important for people to know what the Menil is."