John and Dominique de Menil were forced to leave Nazi-occupied Paris after John helped the Resistance forces there. When they came to the United States, they brought with them a small Cézanne watercolor that John had purchased for $300 and taken home in his briefcase. It was one of the first art purchases the couple ever made. Those may be two of the most telling clues to the lives they would later live in Houston. The new book Art and Activism, Projects of John and Dominique de Menil hopes to shed light on the entire range of interests and efforts of the couple through essays by artists, family, activists and scholars (many of whom will be at today's book-signing and reading session).
"It's the first book that really looks at John and Dominique de Menil," says Vance Muse of The Menil Collection, the couple's most famous legacy. "The truth is, they really did bring all things modern to this part of the world, everything from art, architecture, politics and philanthropy." They brought Andy Warhol to Houston, engaged Mark Rothko on a chapel bearing his name, worked with Jimmy Carter to establish a human rights foundation and supported local politicians, including Mickey Leland and Barbara Jordan.
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On occasion, the worlds of politics and art merged. The story behind the Broken Obelisk that sits outside the Rothko Chapel is one interesting example. The Menils bought the piece and planned to give it to the City of Houston. But there was a small problem. The piece included a plaque that read, "In dedication to Martin Luther King, Jr." The city balked at the dedication and refused the gift. Undaunted, the couple placed the sculpture near the chapel instead. The signing and reading takes place today at 7 p.m. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross. For information, call 713-535-3180 or visit www.menil.org. Free.
Wed., Nov. 3, 2010