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Chances are, even if you've never visited The Menil Collection, if you're an artsy type within the city of Houston, you've heard of it. It's that place where lectures, special art exhibits and other programs and festivals are always being held. The Menil is privately positioned in a perfect Pleasantville-esque neighborhood, so guests feel comfortable, privileged even, to visit its first floor, either on an after-work Wednesday afternoon or a standard art-visiting weekend -- like this past Saturday, when the autumn sun smiled approvingly on scores of families -- and dancing ballerinas -- crowded onto the front lawn to celebrate the museum's 25th Birthday Party.
The birthday party was a cross-cultural blast: guests moved in and out of The Menil, taking in its latest exhibit, Silence, performances by the TSU Jazz Ensemble and the Kashmere Reunion Stage Band and, per birthday party regulations, quite a lot of cake and ice cream. The kiddies got to participate in a scavenger hunt. The highlight of the afternoon was an official city proclamation, presented to Menil director Josef Helfenstein.
The Menil's birthday celebration was also an opportunity to introduce Voices of the Menil, a new phone app that talks to you while you walk around the Menil campus and neighborhood.
The Menil is privately owned and houses the privately acquired art collection of John and Dominique de Menil, but the building is public, free to all between the hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Says Vance Muse, Communications Director, the Menil's reach stretches far beyond Houston: from "Los Angeles to New York, from "London to Berlin."
"It's a local treasure and a global phenomenon," Muse said.
The Menil Collection was born when, after moving to the United States from France, John and Dominique de Menil became fixtures in Houston's cultural landscape. They had been collecting works of art for years. Together, they opened Rothko Chapel, just down the street from The Menil. Dominique de Menil opened The Menil Collection 25 years after the passing of her husband.
Dominique de Menil's vision for the museum is posted, along with other philosophies, on its website:
"I came up with a concept...we would rotate the works of art...but displayed in generous and attractive space...The public would never know museum fatigue and would have the rare joy of sitting in front of a painting and contemplating it. Some great works would be shown alone...Works would appear, disappear, and reappear like actors on a stage. Each time they would be seen with a fresh eye. Habit blunts vision."
Two exhibitions currently carry out the vision de Menil had -- Silence, a compilation of paintings and sculptures on the absence of sound, and Dear John and Dominique: Letters and Drawings from the Menil Archives, doting correspondence written to the art gallery founders.
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"The Menil is important because it's so much about the city from which it grows," Muse said.
Great for now, but what about the next 25 years?
"Just much more of the same, which means growth in the collection and more and more discovering the wonders of the Menil."
The Menil Birthday Party is one of many anniversary celebrations that started in August and will last until December 2 (Philip Glass in Performance). To attend any of these celebratory events, or to learn more about The Menil Collection, visit menil.org.