16.8.08

Just Back from HOUSTON

Menil Collection: installation with Barnett Newman


Menil Collection: installation with Yves Klein and Barnett Newman


Menil Collection: site specific piece by Dan Flavin

I try to get down to Houston a couple of times a year to spend some quality time with my long-time dealer and dear friend Ron Gremillion, and touch base with all my friends and collaborators at the gallery. I’m usually so busy when I’m there that I don't have enough time to fully peruse all the galleries and museums. I read somewhere that Houston is the third largest art scene in the US, after NY and LA, in terms of number of venues; and I am always astonished by the depth and quality of the work I encounter there, particularly where abstract painting is concerned. On this trip, my time was very short, but I always reserve a few hours to check in with what I consider to be the real jewel of Houston, the Menil Collection. This amazing collection really affirms Houston as a world class art city, and is so deep and vital that it requires multiple and repeated visits. The main building contains the galleries for rotating shows, as well as the wonderful contemporary collection. There is usually only a small sliver of the collection visible, and it changes much less frequently than I would like; but the work is always presented in a sensitive and engaging way that not only utilizes the beautiful space and natural light of the galleries, but also presents interesting intelligent resonances and conversations among the works, without didacticism. In the same neighborhood as the main galleries, are numerous buildings that highlight special aspects of the collection, including a fantastic Dan Flavin installation in a huge warehouse space, the indescribably beautiful Cy Twombly Gallery, and of course the Rothko Chapel.

Cy Twombly, Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor, 1994, 13ft x 52ft (Detail)

I think the Twombly Gallery, designed by Renzo Piano, is the most gorgeous exhibition space I’ve ever seen – all natural light, thick raw plaster walls that are so sensuously cool and smooth they demand your caress. The majority of Twombly’s most important paintings (through the mid-‘90s) are here including the 1959 sparse monochromes, Bay of Naples and several related works, the brilliant suite of green landscapes on shaped panels, numerous “blackboard” paintings, and the magnificent Say Goodbye….. completed in 1994.

Rothko Chapel (Detail)

Back in the early '70s when the Rothko Chapel opened, I made the trip to see it -- and ponder it. Since then, I’ve been there dozens of times; and each and every time it’s a different experience. These are among the most enigmatic paintings ever made. Their appearance is constantly altered by the changing light in the chapel – on cloudy days, they look so dark and brooding that you can hardly focus on them – when the sun is bright, they radiate variations of a deep wine red/black, and the surfaces are alive with touch. My feelings about these paintings have vacillated from visit to visit. Initially, I was blown away by their sheer presence – at other times I have felt that they are overwrought or ungiving – but they always insisted on continued dialogue. Over the past fifteen years or so, I have come to regard these paintings as THE defining achievement of the post-WWII generation, and as the single most uncompromising statement in Modern (or contemporary) painting.