Menil's Twombly Goes Crashing

HOUSTON -- A rare sculpture (Untitled 1954) by the 20th century artist Cy Twombly was accidentally knocked over last week, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

It happened at The Menil Collection, a private museum in Texas. Apparently a visitor to the collection backed into the plinth on which the sculpture was displayed, It crashed to the floor detaching its top half in the process.

The Menil Collection staff have revealed that the work of art is now with their conservation department and will be repaired and back on display in the near future.

Adjacent to the main museum, the eponymous Cy Twombly Gallery houses a body of work that is at once baroque and spare, ancient and modern.

Cy Twombly (1928-2011) emerged from the New York art world of the early 1950s, though his approach to painting and sculpture defied affiliation with any predominant movement of the twentieth century (such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism).

A collaboration between the Menil, the Dia Foundation, and the artist himself, the Cy Twombly Gallery (opened in 1995) is edifice-as-grand-gesture, reflecting the depth of this institution's commitment to individual artists and to a standard of presentation that honors the creator's intent as it immerses visitors in an ultimate experience.

The works on view in the Cy Twombly Gallery, dating from 1953 to 2004, comprise a veritable retrospective of the artist’s career, including a number of large canvases, sculptural works, and suites of paintings and drawings.

Filtered through a louvered roof and ceilings of white-canvas sail cloth, natural light plays softly on the works of art, plaster walls, and white-oak floors.

Renzo Piano’s second U.S. commission (whose design began as a sketch by the artist), the Cy Twombly Gallery is both grand (evoking a palazzo in Italy, Twombly's adopted country, where he worked for decades) and modest (its entrance faces away from the street, toward a great live oak tree on the east lawn). Such opposites are also embodied in the building itself, a stout, stony block whose airy roof the architect and artist likened to a butterfly.

Menil Holdings

The Menil Collection opened to the public in June 1987 to house, exhibit, and preserve the art collection of John and Dominique de Menil. Assembled over the course of many decades by the Houston philanthropists, the collection is recognized not only for its quality and depth but also for its distinctive presentation and eclecticism.

An actively collecting institution, the Menil Collection contains diverse holdings representing many world cultures and thousands of years of human creativity, from prehistoric times to the present.

The museum, which is operated by the Menil Foundation, Inc., is also recognized for presenting special exhibitions and programs throughout the year. Located in a quiet residential neighborhood within Houston’s Museum District, the Menil Collection anchors a cultural enclave of shaded streets where bungalows stand side-by-side with artist pavilions and outdoor sculpture and near an art-filled chapel -- the whole shaped by the vision and generous spirit of the de Menil family.

Avid Collectors

John and Dominique de Menil began collecting art intensively in the 1940s, ultimately amassing more than 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, functional items, and rare books.

They were deeply influenced by four figures: Father Marie-Alain Couturier, a Dominican priest and an advocate for incorporating modern art into the Catholic Church; the international art dealer Alexander Iolas; and the renowned curators Jermayne MacAgy and Walter Hopps.

A core strength of the growing collection was European art (including Surrealist works by Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray, and Yves Tanguy) and Cubist and School of Paris painters (including Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso).

By the 1960s the de Menils had gravitated toward the major American postwar movements of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism.

Over the years the family enjoyed close personal friendships with many of the artists whose work they collected, including Victor Brauner, Ernst, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Magritte, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol.

As modernists, the de Menils recognized a profound formal and spiritual connection between contemporary works of art and the arts of ancient and indigenous cultures, broadening the collection to include works from classical Mediterranean civilizations and the Byzantine Empire, as well as objects from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Pacific Northwest.

At the time of John de Menil’s death in 1973, the couple had begun to explore the idea of building a museum to house their collection. Surviving her husband by a quarter of a century, Dominique de Menil achieved that dream.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video provides an overview of the Menil house and museum in Houston.