“I came up with a concept … we would rotate the works of art … The public would never know museum fatigue. Works would appear, disappear, and reappear like actors on a stage. Each time they would be seen with a fresh eye.” —Dominique de Menil
Opened in 1987, the Menil Collection houses a world of art, from the prehistoric to the present day. Exhibited on site in sky-lit galleries and stored upstairs in "treasure rooms,” the collection continues to grow. Paintings, sculptures, decorative objects, prints, works on paper, photographs, and rare books are on view, lent to national and international exhibitions, and made accessible to scholars.
In 1980, when Dominique de Menil met the Italian architect Renzo Piano, he was chiefly known for his collaboration with Richard Rogers on the Centre Georges Pompidou. That controversial building was the opposite of the equally innovative but low-key building that she envisioned for her Houston museum. The building’s cypress siding, steel, and glass are in harmony with its residential neighborhood and defer to the art on display. Piano gave her exactly what she asked for: a museum that seems “small on the outside but large inside,” with 30,000 square feet of gallery space illuminated by natural light filtered through the ingenious system of ferrocement leaves.
In addition to the gallery spaces, the design makes visible a framing studio as well as a conservation laboratory for the study and care of works of art (with their windows on the south and east sides of the building).
Inside the museum, just off the west corridor, the Menil library, housing some 30,000 volumes (including many rare books), is open to researchers by appointment.