June 18, 2005

Art in the Neighborhood - The Menil Collection

We're back from our two-week house hunting expedition to Houston. Pleased to report that we leased an amazing property in the heart of the Gay district. Housing is ample and inexpensive compared to the Bay Area. Now we begin the packing in Oakland and de-acquisitioning our stuff that doesn’t make the cut.

There is quite an arts scene in Houston. In the last few hours before heading back to Oakland we visited the Menil Collection described on the website as follows: "The Menil Collection, which is operated by the Menil Foundation, Inc., opened to the public in June 1987 as the primary repository of John and Dominique de Menil’s private collection. One of the most significant of the twentieth century, the collection consists of nearly 15,000 works dating from the Paleolithic era to the present day."

I have not seen an arts center like this in California. Nestled into a residential neighborhood in the Montrose Museum District of Houston, The Menil occupies approximately four city blocks. All of the surrounding cottages were purchased by the Menil’s and are now occupied by artists and arts organizations. The tree-lined streets allow for quiet meandering between the buildings and surprise visits by squirrels and herons attempting to cool themselves in the spring heat.

The most stunning components of the Menil Collection are the Rothko Chapel and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum. The Rothko Chapel is a meditative space featuring 14 floor to ceiling black canvases by Rothko. After a first viewing you realize that the paintings actually have various hues of black, traditional to the Rothko color fields.

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum is extraordinary. "Intimate in scale (4,000 square feet), the Chapel Museum is the repository in the United States for the only intact Byzantine frescoes in the entire western hemisphere." As stated on the website. A full sized glass replica of the actual chapel has been created inside this building, with the frescos positioned in their original locations. The space feels like a stage set or performance piece as you sit on the wooden pews and gaze up at the frescos.

To live in a city that has tastefully incorporated the arts and culture venues into the surrounding neighborhoods is exciting. The arrangement emphasizes the importance of art in every day lives and makes the traditionally inaccessible venues completely approachable.