Loading
Closed Now
Wed–Sun 11am–7pm
Free Admission
1533 Sul Ross St.
Houston, TX 77006
713-525-9400
Closed Now
Wed–Sun 11am–7pm
Free Admission
1533 Sul Ross St.
Houston, TX 77006
713-525-9400

Menil

Short Features

Monumental Dreams: A Story for Houston, ca. 1969

Between the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dominique and John de Menil planned an exhibition, never realized, with the intriguing title of Dream Monuments.(1) A monument can be many things. It can be a sculptural or architectural work that commemorates something or someone historic, an archaeological site deemed worthy of preservation, or even an area of land with protected geological features. The addition of “dream,” however, adds complexity to those common definitions. The combination contrasts the concrete, physical reality of such places and markers of the past with the mysterious inner workings of the imagination and unconscious, open to scenarios that simply cannot happen in the material world or, when they do take form, resist easy explanations for how and why they exist. Dominique de Menil suggested as much when sketching out the parameters of what a dream monument could be. “Leave out what is definitely architecture” and “sculpture,” she wrote in one of her notes conceptualizing the exhibition.(2) In practice, “leaving out” led the couple to consider a broader range of possibilities. The developing show grew in scope until it practically covered the globe from time immemorial.

Despite the vast reaches of the de Menils’ research, the most logistically demanding aspect of Dream Monuments was scheduled for a particular place and time: Houston, 1969. The couple sought proposals for outdoor projects by artists associated with what was then called Earthworks but is now better known as Land Art. These site-specific environments typically blended natural resources and ecologies with human interventions into the landscape, often inspired by ancient monuments and ruins. The proposals submitted for this unfulfilled project defy the traditional notion of the monument as a work of sculpture or architecture, laying bare the ideologies that attend it in ways that complemented and even augmented Dominique de Menil’s initial thoughts on the dream monument. The program, however, was fitting for another reason—it’s ill-fated end.

The history of Land Art is filled with unrealized projects and unfulfilled ideas. Such is the burden of work that aims to move the earth, which often requires significant funding, considerable space, permits, engineering expertise, skilled labor, and heavy machinery. The de Menils’ aspirations for bringing this type of work to Houston as part of Dream Monuments was no different. Their attempt, and the thinking that underpinned it, reveals just how difficult redefining the idea of the “monument” could be, even as postwar art in the United States was already pushing the term towards new meanings and purposes. This essay investigates the rub between those powerful visions and their limiting circumstances, when the fantasy of what might have been meets the story of what happened.

At first, the de Menils planned a traditional exhibition of drawings and models for monuments from the 19th century to their present day. Dream Monuments was to be a traveling show comprising works—many never realized in full scale—by “little known architects, artists and craftsmen” alongside those by “contemporary artists as Oldenburg, Christo and others.”(3) Dominique de Menil penned those words in June 1968. Yet the opportunities and encounters to come in the following months would raise her and her husband’s expectations for the project in Houston. By January 1969, John de Menil had retired as Chairman of Schlumberger, the oil field services company founded by Dominique de Menil’s father and uncle.(4) Now the couple, who traveled frequently between Houston and New York City, had even more time to devote to their shared pursuits.

It was on one such trip to New York in early 1969 that Dominique de Menil scheduled studio visits with Robert Smithson and Dennis Oppenheim, two artists making Earthworks.(5) From that point onward, the scope of Dream Monuments changed dramatically. Dominique de Menil decided that the “definition of [the] monument” would now encompass “any sculpture or architectural piece which is meant to be outdoors and which has no other function than to impress, exalt, or commemorate.”(6) Already interested in examples from World’s Fairs, she broadened her research to run the gamut from “megalithic stones” to “sixteenth- and seventeenth-century engravings” to 20th-century novelty architecture like Lucy the Elephant, a pachyderm-shaped attraction in a New Jersey beach town.(7) She gathered articles about both realized and unrealized monuments and collected photographic reproductions of drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptural and architectural models depicting examples that might fit an expanded definition of the monument from “ancient to modern times” as it developed across the world, especially in North Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East.(8) Uniting these disparate materials was an interest in work that, in her view, seemed to make the impossible plausible while taking the pleasure of fantasy and invention seriously.

Amid the preparations for this massive project, John de Menil handwrote a list of artists: Michael Heizer, Christo, Dennis Oppenheim, Will Insley, Robert Smithson, Peter Hutchinson, Richard Long, Carl Andre, Claes Oldenburg, Walter De Maria, Robert Morris (fig. 1).(9) To assemble these names, he and Dominique de Menil enlisted the help of John Gibson, a gallerist based in New York City who described himself as an intermediary for clients interested in commissioning what he called “mail-order monuments,” or large-scale sculptural works based on proposals.(10) Previous shows at John Gibson Projects for Commissions provided a reference point for what might be possible. John de Menil, for example, jotted down “monumental sod sculpture” and “grass growing on angular model” next to Dennis Oppenheim’s name. The descriptions recall Oppenheim’s works exhibited at Gibson Projects in 1968, such as a massive model with live plant specimens as well as drawings and other prototypes exploring ideas to be made with grass, sod, prefabricated pipes, and irrigation systems (fig. 2).(11) Despite the crossover between his gallery’s programming and the couple’s plans, Gibson insisted that “What they do—it’s their show. I’ve given them this proposal, and they’re to take it from there.”(12) Take it from there, they did.

Dominique and John de Menil assiduously pursued the logistics for the commissions in the spring and summer of 1969. In March of that year, the chosen artists began submitting proposals.(13) At least six traveled to Texas together, along with Gibson, for site visits.(14) Around the same time, the de Menils acquired aerial maps of Houston and enlisted the director of the city’s parks department to identify areas on public land that might be available for use. They hired Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry’s architectural firm and—through the firm—the structural engineer R. George Cunningham to assess the feasibility of several proposals. John de Menil even finessed his professional connections by approaching executives at oil companies and other local businesses about whether they might subsidize the production of certain works.(15) (The answer was a resounding no.) Despite the couple’s serious efforts to bring the project to fruition, it was an unattainable endeavor. They acquired several, yet not all, of the artists’ proposals but eventually stopped pursuing plans to fabricate any of them.(16)

The sheer ambition of trying to build major new Earthworks in concert with a formidable research agenda distinguished Dream Monuments from the flurry of Land Art exhibitions and programming in various parts of the United States and Europe. From late 1968 into 1969, artists, curators, and art dealers tried to make artwork typically intended for remote or vast expanses of land available to a broader audience. To do so, they turned to the more easily reachable spaces of the gallery, the museum, the college campus, or even the home through broadcast television.(17) To accommodate these settings, artists devised works that were either impermanent or conceived for smaller scales. They created laborious but nevertheless temporary sculptures using materials like rocks, dirt, minerals, grass, sand, and ice. Alternatively, they utilized film, photographs, scale models, and works on paper to convey ideas made or intended for outside. These adjustments and adaptations helped define this early moment in Land Art.

Robert Morris, for one, seems to have taken such compromises into account when he typed up a proposition in the manner of a bureaucratic record instead of submitting a proposal in an idiom typical of his Earthworks from the period.(18) Those earlier examples included piles of dirt, rocks, and minerals he installed in galleries as well as ideas for immense land art projects using sod and other materials that were either delayed due to lack of funds or never realized after waning institutional support (fig. 3).(19) In Houston, the artist wanted to contract someone to grow “the currently most profitable crop to be planted, harvested, and sold” and then split the dividends between himself and the “financial backer of the project” after all labor and other expenses were paid. It was no less than the mechanics of institutionalized capitalism that Morris critiqued, the work enduring through the paper trail documenting its production and a sequence of aerial photographs of the planted crop.(20) John de Menil translated this premise in his handwritten checklist as “wheat project,” though it remains to be seen what the crop and its yield would have been. Having experienced consecutive failed or deferred Land Art projects, Morris devised a conceptual response to the problem of working with other stakeholders and external restrictions.
When the de Menils decided to include contemporary artworks, both as drawings and models in the exhibition and as public sculptures throughout Houston, they participated in a reassessment of the word “monument” already underway.(21) Several of the artists under consideration had been applying the term to works that actively undermined its traditional meaning. For Robert Smithson, redefining the idea of the monument was an opportunity to capture how artists were experimenting with new materials, new kinds of painted and sculpted structures, and by extension new ways to create complex perceptual experiences that would bring awareness to the viewer’s sense of time and place.(22) The usefulness of the word “monument” was, according to Smithson, in its ability to evoke the temporal and spatial relationships that recent art had radically reconceived, drawing from references that transcend human time and history, such as primordial geological formations and science fiction, while still emphasizing the viewer’s immediate conditions. Smithson wanted to stage such an encounter for Dream Monuments. His drawings propose recreating the formation of the continents as they might have looked during the Paleozoic era. Piles of bright, yellow sulfur, to be taken from a nearby quarry, would map out the supercontinent of Gondwanaland in a massive ocean of tar sludge. The raw materials for the artist’s version of the prehistoric past would come from industrial mining, resulting in intense visual and olfactory phenomena for the viewer (figs. 4, 5).
Peter Hutchinson, too, complicated the term when applying it to his own art. In late 1968, he wrote, “I am working on landscapes in giant test tubes that would stand as monuments in inhospitable places where there is no air, such as on other planets, or cities on this planet.” (23) Hutchinson during this period made scale models filled with organic materials and also created photocollages depicting the same models situated in extreme conditions, such as the glass tubes with earth, algae, and chemical crystals that he imagined floating in the Arctic Ocean in Iceberg Project, which the de Menils acquired (figs. 6, 7). For Dream Monuments, he suggested that a big “plexiglass globe,” filled with wood pulp, could be sited outdoors on the Rice University campus. By subjecting the pulp to the introduction of “yeasts, molds and bacteria,” the resulting chemical interactions would turn the substance into starches and sugars (fig. 8). This cycle of decay and transformation matched his fascination with the plight of humankind in an ecologically fragile world.(24)

While some of the artists sought new associations for the “monument,” others seemed ambivalent about the term. Richard Long, for example, would later characterize his work as distinct from “American Land Art” in that his was “interested in scale, but not in mass, not in building ‘monuments.’”(25) (fig. 9) Long’s proposal for the de Menils illustrates what he meant by this distinction. For Houston, he envisioned building large mounds (along with, in one case, a trench) as seen in his preparatory materials. In drawings, he rendered a pastoral setting from various perspectives and included details—trees, a fence, and a human figure—that suggest he wanted to scale his intervention to the surrounding natural environment. The series of gentle hills he pictured would rival the treetops in height without completely overpowering the visitor, who could walk on the crest of at least one example along a flattened path. For corresponding photographs, Long sculpted mounds out of sand or another grainy material and used a low camera angle to create an illusion of knolls rising from a large expanse of earth. (This may be why John de Menil noted “mounds on the beach” next to the artist’s name in his list.) Despite the different types of locations represented in the sketches and snapshots, Long explained to Gibson on the back of a drawing that “everything would be covered with grass or the local vegetation.”(26)

Around this time, Long made similar—if smaller—grassy ridges for other exhibitions and photographed sculptures he fashioned from sand and stones while on walks, availing himself of whatever the landscape offered.(27) For the opportunity in Texas, Long applied the same techniques but may have also contemplated doing something bigger, something possibly approaching the prehistoric burial mounds he encountered in England.(28) If he was in fact repurposing those rounded forms born of archaic rites and rituals, Long did so to focus on the subtleties of being in and of the landscape—however imagined it may have been in this case.

Although often grouped under the rubric of Land Art, the artists in fact responded with a heterogenous set of conceptual frameworks, evident in the ideal settings referenced in their proposals—from the bucolic (Long), the institutional (Morris), the prehistoric and postindustrial (Smithson), to the futuristic (Hutchinson). Thus, it is not surprising that the de Menils wrestled with how best to categorize their work. In correspondence, notes, and invoices involving outside parties, the umbrella project was often called “Dream Monuments.”(29) Internally, however, they sometimes shifted between “monuments” and “environments” when referring to the contemporary art component.(30) In retrospect, the fact that the project never happened was most apt for their definition of the dream in the project’s title as something that could paradoxically be described or pictured but never fully materialized or made manifest in the world. The ideas on paper express pure possibility because practical constraints did not yet encumber them. The participating artists did not have to compromise to realize their works because planning never reached the stage of implementation.

Dominique de Menil’s intuition that the dream monument should be neither architecture nor sculpture identifies qualities that would come to define the work of this same set of postwar artists, suggesting that the framework for the exhibition’s historical component in part emerged from her engagement with the art of the late 1960s. Approximately ten years later, for example, Rosalind Krauss characterized sculptural practice in this period as emphasizing the differentials between traditional categories of media in an “expanded field.”(31) Such forms could neither be considered purely sculpture nor purely architecture, neither totally part of a landscape or site nor totally independent from them.

To some extent, the full transhistorical version of Dream Monuments might have replicated some of the errors in logic against which Krauss argues. She observes that certain ancient sites and ruins in the Americas and in Europe and, for that matter, “anything at all could be hauled into court to bear witness to this [contemporary] work’s connection to history and thereby to legitimize its status as sculpture.”(32) For Krauss, the monument was the vestige of a previous era of art since, in her telling, the purpose of the monument at a given site is to make who or what it represents and where it is placed seem permanent, inevitable, and timeless, though it is none of these things.(33) Indeed, from today’s perspective, Dream Monuments failed not in the fact that it never happened but in that it risked a teleological view of the monument that ended with a circumscribed group of artists. That narrative could have flattened the rich differences in how cultures have memorialized time, thought about claiming or sharing space, and even conceived dreaming.

What makes Dream Monuments interesting as a thought exercise is that, when the de Menils developed their slate of contemporary artworks in tandem with the broader historical conceit of the show, they were neither arguing for the legitimacy of the new work nor for the ideology of the monument. Instead, they were grappling with an historical problem of another order: one in which the project of monument-building was itself recognized as impossible—on one hand, sustaining fictions or partial stories and, on the other, liberating artists from material and social constraints.

Fig. 10: Etienne-Louise Boullée, Newton’s Cenotaph Number 14 (Geometric Elevation) [(Cénotaphe de Newton No 14 (élévation géométrale)], 1784. Graphite on paper, 26 x 15 ¾ in. (66 x 40 cm). Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France
In engaging with the problem of the monument, Dominique de Menil took inspiration from Visionary Architects: Boullée, Ledoux, Lequeu, a traveling exhibition about late-18th-century architectural drawing that she had been instrumental in bringing to the United States from the Bibliothèque nationale de France (fig. 10). The more than 140 drawings and prints of drawings on view depicted ideas for civic projects and monuments, such as grandiose tombs, secular temples, housing for workers, as well as enormous theaters and stadiums. Many of the projects depicted were never realized—or better, were imagined in a gargantuan scale that willingly ignored executability. They were either too expensive, too strange, too impractical or beyond the capacities of building technology.

Only one of the submitted Dream Monuments proposals rivaled the generally unachievable nature of the Visionary Architects content, though reproductions of works by Boullée, Ledoux, and Lequeu definitely circulated among artists in New York in the late 1960s.(34) In A Monument to Galileo, Carl Andre described a sculpture that would be impossible to realize, not because of technical limitations but because its design, at least as presented, would eventually fail (fig. 11). Andre calls for “a one ton steel ball to be released at the cusp of an arc with a minimum chord of one mile cutting a circle with a minimum radius of ten miles.” The ball would roll from end to end along a curved channel running at least a mile wide. In response to this proposal, a structural engineer hired by the de Menils offered safety considerations and suggestions for keeping a massive ball in motion by adding “mechanical devices” to the plan.(35) The engineer’s practical solutions overlook the fact that Andre probably wanted the work to play on Galileo’s contributions to the understanding of gravity by achieving stasis—that is to say, if the artist thought that something so absurdly big and heavy could be fabricated at all.(36) Andre’s proposal thus framed the concept of the monument in terms of its inability to fulfill the aspirations associated with it.

The de Menils were becoming acutely aware of the fraught and too often demoralizing politics that emerge when monumental sculpture enters the public sphere. Concurrently with the planning of Dream Monuments, the couple tried to finalize arrangements for placing Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk (1963/67) near Houston’s City Hall in tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.(37) “You doubtless have read of our hopes…and of the difficulties arising from our request that it be dedicated to Martin Luther King,” Dominique de Menil explained in 1969 to a young Rice student inquiring after the delayed Earthworks. “We are moving, as you see, but it took a week to create the world.”(38) Although drolly comparing their local efforts to the Biblical story of the universe being shaped in six days (the seventh left for rest), Dominique de Menil was acknowledging that they still had to set priorities. For that year, the first order of business would be turning Broken Obelisk into something that could function as a commemoration.

It was the de Menils, not Newman, who wanted to honor Rev. Dr. King, assassinated only a year prior. The tension between stability and instability in Broken Obelisk must have appealed to their desire to imbue this sculpture with the meaning of a monument. Atop a pyramid, a pillar appears as if it had been snapped from a base before being balanced upside down. (fig. 12) The point of contact between the obelisk tip and the pyramid apex gives a sense of precarity to the forms, which together weigh thousands of pounds.

The de Menils met insurmountable obstacles trying to convince the city to help grant-fund their proposed placement. By May 1969, City Council had refused the plan for reasons that were not publicly stated at the time but that John de Menil seemed to understand as being racially biased when he told Newman that “revoltingly enough” the “City Council wouldn’t have” the dedication.(39) The couple instead bought the sculpture, eventually installing it outside of the Rothko Chapel with the intended inscription.

In the end, the de Menils may have had to decide what kind of dream they wanted to pursue for Houston. It is reasonable to infer that the emotional and financial cost of Broken Obelisk further underscored the potential logistical difficulties and expenses the Earthworks might bring. Dream Monuments was postponed again and again until it finally faded away by 1972. The fact that it never happened inadvertently fulfilled the original premise of the project as formulated by Dominique de Menil before the decision to commission large-scale sculpture and site-specific art. Of the historical works on paper, she observed “most of those monuments were never built, but traces could be found in illustrated magazines or archives of drawings.”(40) Such remnants are all that remain of Dream Monuments, too.

The only work realized in situ related to Dream Monuments is itself a trace. Tucked away in the Dennis Oppenheim Estate, in a folder that the artist named “Texas Transplants,” are photographic negatives labeled “Oil Fields / Saratoga, Texas” and dated “3/69,” around the time some of the artists traveled to see the de Menils. Color prints of the same location show one of the artist’s Gallery Transplants, in which he mapped the floorplan of a specific indoor location in an outdoor environment by digging, dragging, drawing, or otherwise marking the malleable earth. Oppenheim did not leave any easily findable hint about which gallery he “transplanted” to the East Texas oil field, but its ground was soft enough to hold—at least for a time—the artist’s imprint.(41) (fig. 13) This ephemeral and relatively modest gesture counters the massive sculptural works that Dream Monuments would have built, leaving its legacy—like so many Earthworks both realized and unrealized—to its documentation.
  1. For our exchanges on the material presented here, I am grateful to Edouard Kopp, Kelly Montana, Amy Plumb Oppenheim, Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen, Changduk Charles Kang, and Phil Taylor. I also thank Brianne Chapelle for her careful research assistance on Dominique de Menil’s notes, Lisa Barkley for her insights into the Menil Archives, and Joseph Newland and Nancy O’Connor for their editorial suggestions.
  2. Dominique de Menil, “Dream Monuments,” (unpublished notes, 10 pp.), 1, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  3. Dominique de Menil to C. Malcolm Watkins, June 25, 1968, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  4. William Middleton, Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018), E-book, 1258.
  5. Ibid., 1259.
  6. Dominique de Menil to Dr. Helen Rosenau, June 17, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  7. On “megalithic stones,” see Dominique de Menil, “Dream Monuments,” 1. For the mention of “sixteenth- and seventeenth-century engravings,” see de Menil to Rosenau, June 17, 1969. Invoices for photographic reproductions suggest she may have considered, for example, plates from Monumenta sepulcrorum (1574) by Tobias Fendt and Pompa funebris optimi potentissimiq. Principis Alberti Pii (1623), designed by Jacques Francquart. See invoices from A. Mewbourn Photographer, dated May 28, 1971, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art dated September 3, 1969. For assembled items on Lucy the Elephant, see the folder with the same name in the Future Exhibitions materials in Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  8. Fredericka Hunter to Department of Parks and Wildlife, Washington, DC, September 9, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  9. Of the artists on the list, we have found Houston-related proposals and correspondence from Christo, Insley, Smithson, Hutchinson, Long, Andre, and Morris.
  10. Jay Jacobs, “Pertinent & Impertinent,” The Art Gallery Magazine 11, n. 4 (January 1968): 16.
  11. John Gibson Projects for Commissions, “Dennis Oppenheim’s Sculpture Is Alive & Growing at John Gibson,” press release, Dennis Oppenheim Estate Archives.
  12. According to Gibson, permanent and temporary installations on sites of the artists’ choosing were slated for Houston. After that, a museum exhibition with the “documentation” (proposals, drawings, scale models, photographs, etc.) would open and a catalogue would be published. John Gibson and Elayne H. Varian, “Interview with John Gibson, circa 1970,” Exhibition records of the Contemporary Study Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art, 1943-1975, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  13. Unclear is whether the proposals went to Gibson or the de Menils first, or whether the de Menils physically received all of them. The fact that not all of the proposals are in Houston complicate this aspect of the project’s history. The Menil Collection has drawings by Smithson and Oldenburg; a copy of Andre’s proposal; an enormous reproductive print of Christo’s mastaba, and a proposal from Hutchinson. Several proposals and other related materials by Andre, Insley, Morris, Long, Smithson, and possibly Oppenheim are now part of the Gilbert B. and Lila Silverman Instruction Drawing Collection at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  14. Accounts of who traveled to Houston differ slightly. A combination of archival evidence and anecdotal recollections suggests that the group included Christo, Peter Hutchinson, Will Insley, Richard Long, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, as well as John Gibson and Nancy Holt. (Nancy Holt may have traveled with Smithson, but she was not invited to propose a work.) A receipt for an unused roundtrip flight for Michael Heizer indicates that not all the artists on John de Menil’s list attended. Humbert Travel Service Inc., Credit Memo for Invoice No. 6981 (Mr. M. Heizer), May 28, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston; Will Insley, “Chronology,” in Will Insley: The Opaque Civilization (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1984), 79; Peter Hutchinson, “Robert Smithson and I,” Provincetown Arts (Summer 2012): 85. Paul Wiggins, a Rice University student who accompanied several artists on local site visits, also shared memories of whom he met in Houston. Telephone interview with Paul Wiggins, conducted March 17, 2021.
  15. John de Menil to Douglas MacAgy, August 12, 1969, and John de Menil to John Gibson, August 22, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  16. See note 13.
  17. These shows and projects involved many of the same artists on the de Menils’ list. Virginia Dwan opened the seminal Earthworks at her New York gallery in October 1968. Four months later, Earth Art took place at Cornell University. Curated by Willoughby Sharp, the show included works temporarily installed across the college campus and museum. Gerry Schum of Fernsehgalerie (TV Gallery) arranged for the broadcast Land Art, featuring the work of nine artists in the U.S. and Europe, to be transmitted in West Berlin the evening of April 15, 1969.
  18. Morris said that the Houston proposal freed him from “actually do[ing] the labor act,” in part by letting other parties make key decisions. Robert Morris and Patricia Norvell, “Robert Morris, May 16, 1969,” in Recording Conceptual Art, eds. Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 57-58.
  19. For an example of work for a gallery setting, see Morris’s Untitled in Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Earth Art (Ithaca: Office of University Publications, Cornell University, 1970), 40. For descriptions of projects canceled or finished later under different guises, see Thomas Krens, The Drawings of Robert Morris (Williamstown, MA: Williams College Museum of Art, 1982), 12, 14.
  20. The project is closer to Morris’s Money than his earthworks. In a proposal also signed and dated March 1969, the artist stipulated that the Whitney “should acquire $100,000 by obtaining a loan against its collection or real estate holdings” and then invest it over the course of his show there. “After broker’s fees,” he added, “the profit would be divided between the Museum and myself.” He would allow various forms of documentation to be exhibited as part of the work. Robert Morris, Money, 1969–73. Ink on paper mounted on board, 22 x 67 1/8 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Postwar Committee, 2003.198.
  21. See, for example, Dan Graham, “Models and Monuments: The Plague of Architecture,” Arts Magazine 41, n. 5 (March 1967): 32–35; or Robert Smithson, “The Monuments of Passaic,” Artforum 6, n. 4 (December 1967): 48–51. For a later example, see Nancy Foote, “Monument–Sculpture–Earthwork,” Artforum 18, n. 2 (October 1979), 32–37.
  22. I summarize here one of Smithson’s best-known applications of the term, as featured in his article “Entropy and the New Monuments” (1966), reprinted in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 11.
  23. Peter Hutchinson, “Earth in Upheaval: Earth Works and Landscapes,” Arts Magazine 43, n. 2 (November 1968): 21.
  24. Ibid. Hutchinson in fact explicitly associated yeasts and molds with the “decaying” landscape.
  25. Richard Long, “Extracts from a talk by Richard Long for the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, November 2014,” in Richard Long: Time and Space, ed. Lucy Badrocke (Bristol: Arnolfini; London: Koenig Books, 2015), 115.
  26. Long’s message provides additional insights into the circumstances in which he submitted the drawings. Gibson seems to have sent the invitation via telegram to Long, who in turn may have submitted the drawings from Europe. The artist wrote at the top “c/o Fischer Neubrückstr. 12,” the address of Konrad Fischer’s Düsseldorf gallery. Long considered the sketches to be working drawings, telling Gibson that he would send “any other changes of ideas” as well as “more detailed drawings should they be necessary.” See the verso of Richard Long, Untitled (Houston Project), 1969, pencil and press type on sheet of paper, 4 7/8 × 10 1/8 in., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of the Gilbert B. and Lila Silverman Instruction Drawing Collection, Detroit, 1498.2018.e.
  27. Long, for example, debuted Turf Circle, 1969, at the Museum Haus Lange that July.
  28. See the image of the Neolithic Silbury Hill in the announcement he designed a year later for his show at Dwan Gallery (Dwan Gallery records, 1959-circa 1982, bulk 1959-1971, Box 4, Folder 12, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution). For an in-depth discussion of Long’s interest in British archaeologic sites, see Alistair Rider, “The ‘Curve over the Crest of the Hill’: Carl Andre and Richard Long,” in Anglo-American Exchange in Postwar Sculpture, 1945–1975, ed. Rebecca Peabody (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011): 133–47.
  29. A letter from Dominique de Menil to Elayne H. Varian strongly supports the case for understanding the contemporary projects as part of Dream Monuments. Responding to Varian’s inquiry about showing the proposals alongside reproductions of the completed works at the Finch College Museum of Art, de Menil wrote, “The Dream Monuments project is progressing, but very, very slowly. We have been too involved in too many other projects to work actively on it, my husband and I. To erect in Houston monuments by the artists of John Gibson will take quite a bit of selling.” Dominique de Menil to Elayne H. Varian, September 26, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  30. These changes, which are normal for any developing project, explain the preference for “Monuments” and/or “Environments” in other publications. See Don Quaintance, “From the Archives: Dream Monuments,” Menil Membership Bulletin 14, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2015): 15; and, Cassie Wu with Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, “Annotated Chronology of Group Exhibitions and Events,” in Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art; Munich: distributed by Prestel, 2012), 252.
  31. Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986), 276–90. First published in October 8 (Spring 1979): 30–44.
  32. Ibid., 279.
  33. Ibid., 279–80.
  34. I am making a distinction here between the proposals newly sent to the de Menils and the drawings they already collected. Oldenburg, for example, mentions Boullée, Ledoux, and Lequeu in Claes Oldenburg: Proposals for Monuments and Buildings, 1965–1969 (Chicago: Big Table Publishing Company, 1969), 14. As Kelly Montana explores in “Drawing Is a Path Towards Reality: Four Monuments for Houston” on this website, the de Menils focused their planning around his drawings of fantastical monuments, especially the ones that they acquired. Oldenburg hinted that they were in conversation about future, if also undetermined, possibilities in other media. He told a third party that “he might be doing something in Houston later this year.” Bobby Votava to Dominique de Menil, June 14, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston. For more on Oldenburg’s drawings during this period, see Julian Rose, “Objects in the Cluttered Field: Claes Oldenburg’s Proposed Monuments,” October 140 (Spring 2012): 113–38.
  35. R. George Cunningham to Eugene Aubry, April 17, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  36. Andre later characterized the work as “just a fantasy” to his wife Melissa Kretschmer. Kretschmer, email message to Kelly Montana, October 11, 2017.
  37. For a history of this effort, see Middleton, Double Vision, 1183–87.
  38. Dominique de Menil to Paul “Jinks” Wiggins, August 4, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston.
  39. John de Menil to Barnett Newman, May 27, 1969, Menil Archives, the Menil Collection, Houston. See also de Menil to MacAgy, August 12, 1969. For a detailed account of how the de Menils combined their commitments to art with the fight for racial equality, including the Broken Obelisk purchase, see Alvia J. Wardlaw, “John and Dominique de Menil and the Houston Civil Rights Movement,” in Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil, eds. Josef Helfenstein and Laureen Schipsi (Houston: The Menil Collection, 2010), 103–13; and see Newman’s letter expressing his appreciation of the dedication, 186.
  40. De Menil to Watkins, June 25, 1968.
  41. Wiggins recalls Oppenheim being eager to see the site after he told the artist about it. Wiggins watched him mark the ground there using “a stick.” Telephone interview with Paul Wiggins, conducted March 17, 2021.

Related exhibitions

May 21 – Sep 19, 2021
Menil Drawing Institute
Dream Monuments: Drawing in the 1960s and 1970s