The Menil Publishing Program

The Menil Collection’s publishing program contributes to the history and interpretation of art, provides intellectual contexts for artworks on exhibition or in the collection, and comprehensively catalogues artists’ entire bodies of work. Books of many sizes and shapes extend the museum’s reach and engage audiences around the world. New forms are being explored on this website to engage digital visitors, many of whom may never visit in person; see Online Features. Inside the museum, exhibition gallery guides to inform viewers during and after their visits are available for free.

Books are ambassadors for the museum; they document temporary exhibitions and special projects as well as permanent holdings. Since the contraction of commercial book publishing in the early 2000s, mission-driven art museum publishing programs have become even more prominent vehicles for new research and critical insights. Long before the museum opened in 1987, the founding collectors John and Dominique de Menil were actively producing exhibitions and catalogues with various Houston arts organizations. National attention came with two exhibitions organized by their Institute of the Arts at Rice University, 1969’s Raid the Icebox 1 with Andy Warhol, initiated by John de Menil, and the Yves Klein retrospective of 1982, curated by Dominique de Menil and circulated to Chicago, New York, and Paris.

In fact, Menil publishing began in the early 1950s when John and Dominique de Menil began sponsoring and curating exhibitions; they settled on funding an art history and exhibition program at the University of St. Thomas with the art historian and curator Jermayne McAgy (1914–1964). The ambitions and scope of exhibitions and related publications continued to grow with the de Menils’ initiation of the Institute of the Arts at Rice University in 1969, right up through the opening of the Menil Collection in 1987.

In 1960 a massive research project called The Image of the Black in Western Art was begun by a question of Dominique de Menil. The motive behind it, if recast in today’s language, might read: Does the artistic record show that Africans and diasporic Africans have always been treated so poorly as in the American South of the Jim Crow–era of the mid 20th century? This led to a 54-year-long research and publication project finished in 2014 at Harvard University. In addition, the Menil is unusual among museums in sponsoring the cataloging of an artist’s complete body of work, or a catalogue raisonné. John de Menil initiated this enterprise by commissioning that of René Magritte’s paintings in 1969, and we are currently compiling a multivolume catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Jasper Johns. For more information on such projects, please see Research Publications.

Most of the books published by Menil Collection are exhibition or collection related. These volumes do much more than form a record of temporary exhibitions or a portion of the permanent collection: they aim to contribute to scholarship and increase a viewer’s appreciation of artworks through study. Some are on a single artist or body of work, such as WOLS Retrospective (2013) and Barnett Newman The Late Work, 1965–1970 (2015). Others provide contextual background for a complex exhibition idea such as Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence (2014) or survey a subject, as does Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now (2015). African Art from The Menil Collection (2008) explores important works in a theretofore unresearched and unpublished collection, whereas Imprinting of the Divine: Byzantine and Russian Icons (2011) is a comprehensive book on the museum’s icons, and the museum’s fourth publication on the subject. Claes Oldenburg Strange Eggs (2014) is a rare example of an artist book, the result of a close collaboration between artist and publisher; and Cy Twombly Gallery (2013) documents that single-artist building and the paintings and sculptures in it, and was a copublication with the Cy Twombly Foundation.

For a listing of Menil publications currently available in bookstore, please go to the page for our online Bookstore.