May Educational Program: Informal Tour of The Menil Collection with David E. Brauer

Saturday, May 3, 9:45 AM
The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross St., 77006


The May, 2014 Educational Program brought us to the Menil Collection to hear a lecture by David Brauer. Mr. Brauer’s experience reaches back to the time that Dominique Menil was still alive and before she built the Menil building, which is now devoted to housing and exhibiting her collection. Mr. Brauer’s ex-wife was actually the first Exhibitions Director for the Menil Collection, therefore, he has a lot of intimate knowledge about the collection.


As we were standing outside, since Mrs. Menil did not like or allow tours and lectures within the building, Mr. Brauer gave an historical perspective on the collection. He began by noting that the Menil Collection is not an “encyclopedic” one. For example, ancient Greek and Egyptian works stand by African works on one end of the building and modern, surrealist works fill the other part of the building. What’s missing is hundreds of years of art including, for example, the Renissance. In this way, Mr. and Mrs. Menil collected works which had a sense of spirituality about them. Baroque works, for example, simply did not appeal to the Menils and is therefore absent from their collection. With that said, the Collection contains approximately 17,000 works and only 10% are on view at any one time.


A surprise to most people is that the Menil Collection contains a significant amount of work by Andy Warhol. Warhol is not considered, by most people, to be a spiritual artist. However, people who knew him to the degree that the Menils knew him, understood Warhol’s importance of spirituality and religion. As a matter of fact, Dominique was with Warhol in Italy when the last photo was taken of Warhol before he died.


The Menil Collection includes three unique, permanent, single-artist exhibition buildings: the Rothko Chapel, the Dan Flavin Installation and the Cy Twombly Gallery. Although these are three separate buildings, they each speak to one another through their spiritual context, Mr. Brauer said.


When it comes to modern art, few patrons in the world did as much as the Menils to advance the Surrealism movement in the United States. Surrealism was born in the effort to perceive of both the subconscious and spirituality – that concept the Menils most cherished. As a result, they amassed an amazing collection of Surrealist work (the Menil Collection has the world’s second-largest collection of work of 54 pieces by Magritte outside his home museum in Belgium). Conspicuously absent is any work by Dali whom Dominique considered a facist and a homosexual. Although neither of those points were true, her belief in them resulted in a collection void of his work.


Mr. Brauer’s exhaustive knowledge was quite apparent today and everyone who attended benefitted from it. Thank you Mr. Brauer for taking the time to speak to VAA members and guests on such an interesting and inspiring topic.