Not a Pretty Picture

Page 3 of 3

The Menil Foundation board has made it a goal to professionalize the museum. "We have very little structure here," says Sarofim, adding that the board wants to make the museum "more accessible to the city of Houston" by doing more exhibitions and improving the development campaign, public relations and marketing -- "kind of basics in the museum world."

Since the museum has always regarded bureaucratic regulations as vulgar and has prided itself on the difference between it and institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, where the art objects' importance is subsumed by a variety of civic and bureaucratic goals, talk of implementing more customary museum practices does not sit well with the staff. Still, staffers have complained that the museum's lack of structure interferes with their ability to do their jobs, and the need for outside financial contributions is obvious. A gentle formalization, such as the board's plan to add an administrative director and badly needed curatorial staff, might have been welcomed.

But the board has already gone far beyond that. As part of Winkler's new contract, the board proposed a job performance review. Winkler, a gangly, gentle man known more for his ability to develop close relationships with artists than for his ability to charm perspective patrons, would be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 on such issues as "Does the director function consistently in an objective and rational manner regardless of pressure?" and "Does the director's appearance and demeanor express executive style and confidence?"

Claiming fiduciary responsibility, the board has also entertained the idea of selling the de Menil residence, which was architect Philip Johnson's first commission and probably Houston's first modernist structure. Architecture historian Stephen Fox has appeared before the board to make a case for the house's significance, and last week Johnson spoke to a small gathering at the house. There, architect William Stern, who helped organize the event, stood before the plate glass fronting the lavish tropical garden and earnestly pointed out that the house would be even more important at 100 years old than it is at 50.

Of course, maintaining a house for guests, cultural events or meetings would be an added expense. "Our first hope would be to save the house," Sarofim says.

And while she can understand the staff's concerns, Sarofim says, "It's not our intention to change the uniqueness of the museum or to dilute it. ...[Dominique] didn't want it to just stay in a static situation."

But many insist the board's changes weren't what Dominique had in mind. "If Dominique were alive," Berg says of Glaser's firing, "it never would have happened.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Shaila Dewan