The Menil Drawing Institute (MDI) is the result of recognizing drawing as central to the lives of artists and crucial to modern and contemporary artistic culture. As a form that transcends discipline—it is as valuable to the choreographer, composer, and archaeologist as it is to the architect and artist—drawing acts as a language that gathers those frequently kept separate and provides a way to look into creative culture more holistically. The MDI has developed a national profile for exhibitions, scholarship, and collaboration, including Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective (2012) and Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds (2014), the MDI is preparing the multiple-volume catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Jasper Johns and has forged a programmatic collaboration with the Morgan Library & Museum’s Drawing Institute.
Before the MDI was established as a program of the Menil Collection in 2008, two important gifts added to the already strong holdings of drawings in the museum. Louisa Stude Sarofim’s gift of Ellsworth Kelly’s Tablet in 2003 made Houston one of the most important cities in the world to study this major American artist’s practice. Comprising 188 drawings and collages that Kelly made from 1948 to 1973, Tablet reflects his material and conceptual thinking during this crucial time in his career. Just two years later, David Whitney’s transformative bequest added drawings by artists such as Vija Celmins, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly. Particularly notable in Whitney’s bequest are the 17 drawings from Jasper Johns—the earliest from 1957—that have made the Menil the main site for studying this key aspect of the artist’s practice, and made the MDI the logical place to initiate the catalogue raisonné of his drawings.
Most recently, in 2013, a major bequest from Houston architect and Menil trustee William F. Stern added notable drawings by Mel Bochner, Donald Judd, Sherrie Levine, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Richard Tuttle, and others to the MDI, as well as an endowment for acquisitions of modern and contemporary drawing.
Artists and artists’ estates also have made remarkable gifts to the MDI. Robert Gober, Suzan Frecon, Max Neuhaus, David Novros, Claes Oldenburg, and the estate of Fred Sandback are among those who have added drawings to the collection, enabling the Menil to present their practices in light of their long-standing relationships with the institution. Notable among these gifts is a donation made by Cy Twombly, whose freestanding pavilion will be near the new MDI building on the Menil campus, and whose work demonstrates many of the possibilities inherent in drawing. In 2009, the artist donated a suite of twelve landmark works on paper, which featured in 2014 at the Morgan Library & Museum in the exhibition Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil.
With spaces for exhibition, study, research, conservation, and reflection, the MDI’s new building will be a porous space that permits the public to dynamically interact with its holdings.