About The Menil Collection

The Menil Collection is a museum and neighborhood of art spanning 30 acres in the heart of Houston, Texas.

The main gallery building anchors the campus and is surrounded by four additional museum buildings: the Menil Drawing Institute; Cy Twombly Gallery; Richmond Hall, which features an installation by artist Dan Flavin; and the Fresco Building.

Making art accessible is vital to the Menil’s mission; no admission is charged and public programs are free. All of the Menil’s campus buildings are entered at ground level, symbolic of its democratic ideals. The Menil’s philosophy is to foster each visitor’s direct, personal encounter with works in the collection. The display of carefully chosen artworks in serene settings are hallmarks of the museum.

The museum’s public programs aim to attract, educate, and inspire diverse audiences and are vital to the life of the Menil. Exhibiting artists lecture and perform; curators and scholars explore exhibitions, collections, and artworks; music, dance, and poetry performances are held, and all are organized to foster conversation.

The Menil is also marked by the activism and spiritual pursuits of John and Dominique de Menil. It is a museum engaged with art for life’s sake, including the witnessing of civil rights photography, the overt spirituality of Byzantine icons, and the contemplative act of viewing abstract painting. The museum and the campus aim to be an oasis in the midst of daily life that offers each viewer a moment to pause, reflect, and reinvigorate.

The museum’s collection—displayed in two-thirds of the main building and often rotated. The permanent collection highlights Arts of Africa, the Americas and Pacific Northwest, Ancient World, the Pacific Islands, Drawing, Medieval and Byzantine, Modern and Contemporary, Surrealism, and the permanent installation entitled A Surrealist Wunderkammer.

The Menil does not aspire to be comprehensive. It strives instead for excellence in the distinct areas established by its founders and successive curators and directors. Rigorous intellectual independence and a commitment to humane values are key criteria for program choices the museum makes. Since its founding, the Menil has supported substantial collaborations with contemporary artists who have used the collection as a jumping-off point for new work.

Scholarship is at the heart of the Menil enterprise. A conservation studio and a research library symbolically flank the public exhibition spaces, and the de Menils themselves commissioned several major research efforts. The conservation department is known for its studies of modern art materials and techniques and helps train conservators.


The Menil Collection’s activities have always encompassed the publication of art and the thoughts of leading scholars and critics. These include catalogues raisonné of the oeuvres of René Magritte and Max Ernst; the ambitious Image of the Black in Western Art series, the tenth and last volume of which was released in 2014 by Harvard University Press; and the recent catalogue raisonné of Jasper Johns’s drawings from 2018. The publishing program—unusually productive for a museum of its size—addresses international audiences, including many who may never visit the museum itself, through print publications and online features.

Architectural History

The award-winning, landmark Menil Collection building, completed in 1987, and the Cy Twombly Gallery, completed in 1995, were both designed by architect Renzo Piano. The main museum building is illuminated by changing natural light, bringing life to the artworks. The Cy Twombly Gallery was designed in consultation with the artist and combines special sunlight baffles and plaster walls. The 1996 Dan Flavin installation was created for Richmond Hall, a 1930s commercial building rehabilitated for that purpose. The Fresco Building, designed by Francois de Menil, housed two frescoes rescued for the Church of Cyprus. The frescoes were displayed there from 1997 to 2012 and then returned to Cyprus.

In 2009, David Chipperfield Architects was engaged to create a new master plan for the Menil campus. The first projects to result in this plan were Stern and Bucek’s Bistro Menil and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ gateway landscape and parking lot, all completed in 2014. The Menil Drawing Institute was established in 2008 to further the study of modern and contemporary drawings, and its permanent building, designed by the architecture firm Johnston Marklee, opened to the public in the fall of 2018.

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