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The Menil Collection Announces Fall 2011 to Spring 2012 Exhibits

The Menil Collection art museum in Houston, Texas, announced their Fall 2011 to Spring 2012 exhibition schedule. Their calendar includes Walter De Maria: Trilogies, Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawing from the Collection, Imprinting the Divine: Byzantine and Russian Icons from the Menil Collection, Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective, Danny Lyon and Silence. The exhibits start this September and continue through October 2012.

Walter De Maria: Trilogies
September 16, 2011 – January 8, 2012

Organized by the artist and Menil director Josef Helfenstein, Walter De Maria: Trilogies is the artist’s first major museum exhibition in the United States. The exhibition includes three series of related works: one painting series and two sculpture series, each comprised of three parts.

The Statement Series, which occupies the museum foyer, consists of three large horizontal, monochrome paintings: Red Painting, Yellow Painting, and Blue Painting. These large paintings (14’ x 20’) create a unified, site-specific installation. In addition to acting as a dramatic spatial ensemble, each painting has a small rectangular plate of polished stainless steel at its center that is engraved with a singular statement. The Yellow Painting, originally titled The Color Men Choose When They Attack the Earth (1968), is part of the museum’s permanent collection.  Red Painting and Blue Painting (2011) were created for especially for this exhibition.

The exhibition continues in the museum’s vast west gallery. First on view is the Channel Series: Circle, Square, Triangle (1972), a trilogy that resides in the Menil’s permanent collection. The basic geometric shapes in this series are outlined by lengths of metal with squared sides, forming a U-shaped channel. Each channel contains a solid stainless steel sphere equal in width to the passageway. The spheres may be moved to different locations inside the channels at varying times, introducing an element of randomness.

Also occupying the gallery is the third series of works, Bel Air Trilogy (2000–2011).  The installation consists of three 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air automobiles, meticulously restored with only minor customizations by the artist.  Highly popular because of its crisp, clean design and classic lines, this renowned model often featured a signature two-tone color scheme; the three cars exhibited here are a matched set, each painted in “Gypsy Red” and “Shoreline Beige”.

While considering each car as a beautiful object in itself, the artist has intervened with a component familiar within his work: a highly polished metal rod. The front windshield of each car has been seamlessly pierced by a 12-foot-long stainless steel rod that runs through the interior of the passenger compartment parallel to the chassis, exiting through the rear window. A defining feature of early hardtop car design is the absence of a center window post, which here allows an unobstructed side view of the rod’s transversal path. Each rod has a distinct geometric shape: again the primary forms of a square, a circle, and a triangle. The long minimalist rods, with their reflective surfaces and classic linear, three-dimensional form, share some of the same qualities as the 1955 Chevy Bel Air. The combination and interaction of these two elements activates the new work.

Born in Albany, California in 1935, Walter De Maria attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied history and art, completing a master’s degree in 1959. He moved to New York the following year, where he has lived and worked ever since. Although trained as a painter, De Maria soon turned to sculpture and began using other media, participating in happenings and making music recordings and films. His first three-dimensional works, sparely designed and constructed wooden boxes, anticipated Minimalism. Over the last fifty years De Maria has played a continuous role in the development of four major art movements: Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Land Art (Earthworks), and installation Art. He has had seven solo European museum exhibitions — in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and France.

By the late 1960s, De Maria had started to conceive of the earth itself as a site and medium for artworks of immense scale, free of the limits of gallery or museum. In 1968 he made Mile Long Drawing, two parallel white chalk marks set twelve feet apart that ran for a mile across one of the vast, dry salt lakes of California’s Mojave Desert. De Maria is perhaps best known for Lightning Field (1977), a geometrically precise arrangement of 400 pointed stainless steel poles set in mile-by-kilometer grid in a remote desert of western New Mexico.

In the late 1970s De Maria created three enduring urban works. As complementary pieces, Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977), and The Broken Kilometer (1979), address the idea of unseen or abstracted distance. Vertical Earth Kilometer is a one-kilometer long brass rod, two inches in diameter, drilled into a city parkground in Kassel, Germany. The rod’s circular top, flush to the earth’s surface, is framed by a two-meter square plate of red sandstone. The Broken Kilometer, a permanent indoor installation in New York, consists of 500 two-meter-long brass rods of equal diameter (totaling one kilometer in length) laid on the floor in precise rows of 100 rods each. In contrast to the hard metal of both Kilometer pieces, the third of these urban works, The New York Earth Room (1977), is a 3,600-square-foot room filled to a depth of 22 inches with 250 cubic yards of earth.

De Maria’s complex investigations—using rigorous mathematical principles, natural materials and environments, and precisely manufactured elements—do not lead to a vision of rational materialism, but to one of enduring mystery. Trilogies expresses some of the defining features of De Maria’s work—installations that explore the conceptual, the monumental, the minimal, and the real.

Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawing from the CollectionSeptember 23, 2011 – January 15, 2012

Mining the Menil Collection’s archives of works on paper, Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawing from the Collection showcases rarely exhibited drawings by artists who largely had no contact with the mainstream art world. This “outsider art,” as the work came to be known, enchanted and inspired the Surrealists, who believed artists with no formal training, or those who drew in altered mental states, could more successfully access the subconscious, achieving greater clarity and authenticity of expression.

The more than 50 drawings highlighted in Seeing Stars defy traditional and academic methods of representation and mark-making. Instead, experiments with chance, automatism and psychoanalysis – along with constructions of imaginary landscapes, creatures and machines – characterize the work. In 1949 Jean Dubuffet invented the term “Art Brut” to define this kind of work and championed its creators as “draw(ing) everything (subject, choice of material, expressive means, rhythms, spellings, etc.) from their own inner selves and not from the commonplaces of classical or currently fashionable art.”

Seeing Stars brings together artists who can be called visionary, folk, naïve or self-taught, boasting an eclectic mix of backgrounds, influences and processes. The exhibition features works by Charles A.A. Dellschau, a Prussian-born saddler and butcher who lived in Houston in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Originally salvaged from a dump, and then from a Houston junk shop, Dellschau’s collages and paintings of fantastical flying machines bound in handcrafted notebooks evidence the mysteries that enveloped scientific phenomena during the time.

Also on view are two drawings by German author and artist Unica Zürn, who was part of the Surrealist circle in Paris. These drawings, many of which were completed while Zürn was institutionalized, depict distorted creatures and body features that reflect her lifelong struggle with mental illness. In addition, Seeing Stars presents a nine-foot-long scroll by Henry Darger who lived and worked in his one-room Chicago apartment for forty years. The double-sided scroll depicts a magical universe that the artist called the “realm of the unreal.” It is among the 30,000 pages of unpublished manuscripts and 300 accompanying watercolors discovered by the artist’s landlord following Darger’s death.

Seeing Stars also offers the chance to see lesser known prints by Hungarian photographer Brassaï, drawings by Bill Traylor, Adolf Wölfii, and Joseph Yoakum,  tattoo sketches by I.E. Requier, early drawings by Jackson Pollock and work collected by John and Dominique de Menil from the Prison Museum in Huntsville, Texas.

The exhibition’s title, taken from the familiar experience of “seeing stars” refers to the physiological anomaly in which the stimulation of the retina by the brain creates the illusion of flashes of light, colors and shapes. Evoking this phenomenon, the works on view suggest that creative vision is perhaps most interesting when one’s eyes are shut to the outside world and inspiration is allowed to well from within.

Organized by Michelle White, associate curator of the Menil Collection, Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawing from the Collection challenges our notions of artistic achievement and expands our understanding of the creative process beyond orderly categories and movements.

Imprinting the Divine: Byzantine and Russian Icons from the Menil Collection
October 21, 2011 – March 18, 2012

The Menil’s collection of Byzantine icons is widely regarded by scholars in the field as one of the most important of its kind in the United States. This group of more than sixty works, many of which were acquired by Dominique de Menil in 1985 from the noted collector Eric Bradley, spans 600 years, from the 13th to the 18th centuries, and encompasses a number of distinct cultures including Greek, Slavic, and Russian. Taking the diversity of the collection into account, Imprinting the Divine examines these works not in an attempt to situate them within a particular context, but rather to explore how they were designed to transcend time and place.

In order to be effective as a conduit to the sacred, an icon from this period comprised certain characteristics: fidelity (an icon functioned only if it was faithful to the subject it represented); familiarity (the image had to be easy to remember); and combinability (it had to blend familiar elements into new messages).

Byzantine thinkers often likened the image of an icon to the imprint of a seal, distinct from the seal itself, but indelibly bound to it by its shared form. A more modern analogy is mechanical typography. The printer’s block imprints paper, as a seal would wax, leaving letter forms so common we refer to them as “type”. An icon’s task is to make the image of a figure, theme, or event, similarly recognizable. Where icons differ from seals or type, however, is in their medium. The icon must imprint itself not on paper, wax, or metal, but on the volatile energies of the human mind.

While we associate highly regularized images with predictability and even boredom, icons managed to sustain their intensity over centuries, cultures, theological stances, and techniques of production. Employing established compositional tropes, they assume an appearance of radical straightforwardness, but are complicated by a variety of strategies that repeat but also refresh, revise, and renew.

Organized for the Menil Collection by guest curator Annmarie Weyl Carr, Professor Emeritus, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Imprinting the Divine invites viewers to explore how icons have maintained their power to surprise and impress in the 21st century.

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective
March 2 – June 10, 2012

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective is the first retrospective of the artist’s drawings – and the first major one-person exhibition to be organized under the auspices of the Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center. While Serra’s sculptures have been widely recognized and the subject of numerous museum exhibitions, his drawings, which have played a crucial role in his work for over forty years, have not received a critical overview.

This exhibition, with work from major European and American public and private collections, traces Serra’s investigation of drawing as an activity both independent from and linked to his sculptural practice. Organized chronologically, it addresses significant shifts in concept, materials, and scale, and culminates with new large-scale works completed for this presentation.

In the early 1970s Serra drew primarily with ink, charcoal, and lithographic crayon on paper. At first a means for the artist to explore form and perceptual relations between his sculpture and the viewer, the drawings eventually became autonomous works of art. They increased to human-scale, and bold forms created with black paintstick exploded the boundaries of the paper support. In the mid 1970s Serra made the first of his monumentally-scaled Installation Drawings, the artist’s original version of the dialectic between radical scale and radical technique in an architectural context. Working on site, he attached Belgian linen directly to the wall. Paintstick, melted down and recast in large heavy blocks, was applied using repetitive and vigorous physical gestures. The resulting fields of black disrupt and complement existent spaces and began to occupy entire rooms towards the late 1970s.

Within the last twenty-five years, Serra has continued to invent new drawing techniques. In the late 1980s he explored how to further articulate the tension of weight and gravity by placing pairs of overlapping sheets of paper saturated with paintstick in horizontal and vertical compositions. In his most recent work, since the 1990s, he has embarked on numerous series with a remarkable variety of surface effects. Often working on the floor and using a mesh screen as an intermediary between the gesture and the transfer of pigment to the paper, he persists to achieve effects that offer new ways to consider drawing. In short, Serra is among a significant group of artists whose transformative work irrevocably changed the practice and definition of modernist drawing, and challenged drawing’s role in the traditional hierarchy of media.

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective is organized by Bernice Rose, chief curator, Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center; Michelle White, associate curator, The Menil Collection; and Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring several original, scholarly texts.

Danny Lyon
March 30 – July 29, 2012

Danny Lyon, an exhibition of approximately 45 photographs and photographic montages, traces the evolution of the New York- and New Mexico-based artist’s career from 1962 to the present. A leading and explosively creative figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon distinguished himself from peers like Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander through his exceptionally strong political consciousness.

Drawn from the artist’s studio and the Menil’s collection of 246 of Lyon’s photographs, the exhibition features images from important bodies of work, including, among other subjects, his early studies of Midwestern motorcycle gangs, the Civil Rights Movement, and death row inmates in Texas prisons. To make these affecting, intimate images, Lyon was both a participant and an observer. He got to know his subjects and often captured their stories in highly descriptive, opinionated texts as well as in photographs. Lyon rode with bikers, marched against segregation with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and spent hours inside the notorious “Walls Unit” of Huntsville Prison.

Marking the artist’s 70th birthday, Danny Lyon will include photographs from all periods of the artist’s career as well as images from a new series of images made in rural China, and a number of the recent montage works in which the artist arranges old and new photographs to create poetic reflections on memory, family, and the transience of life.

Organized by Toby Kamps, Menil curator of modern and contemporary art, the exhibition also recognizes Lyon’s deep and sustained relationship with Houston and the museum. In Houston, where the artist briefly lived, Lyon met museum co-founder Dominique de Menil, who provided moral support for his work as well as funding for a 1975 film about homeless orphans in Columbia “Los Niños Abandonados” (“The Abandoned Children”). Recently restored and digitized, the film will be presented in a special screening during the run of the exhibition.

July 27 – October 21, 2012

With paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, performances, and sound works, Silence considers the absence of sound as a subject and a medium in contemporary art. Whether a positive source of inspiration, an enigmatic force, or an unsettling limbo zone, silence is a powerful force in art and human experience. While signifying absence, it can also manifest presence and the passage of time; and it can inspire calming meditation or cause anxiety.

While not every piece in the exhibition will lack sound, all will investigate the experience, idea, and power of silence to inspire a range of physical and psychic states.

In Houston the architectural anchors of the exhibition will be the Rothko Chapel (1971), a world-renowned place of silent meditation as well as the Menil Collection building itself, conceived by the architect Renzo Piano and Dominique de Menil to be a quiet “place apart” for contemplating art (2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the museum).

Silence will feature paintings and sculptures from the Menil’s collection of modern and contemporary art and a selection of historic and new works in a variety of media by an international group of artists. Works from the Menil’s permanent collection will include a gold-leaf painting by Yves Klein; René Magritte’s iconic painting of a giant green apple that impossibly fills an interior (“The Listening Room,” 1952); and the outdoor sound sculpture by Max Neuhaus, Sound Figure (2007).

Other works and artists in the exhibition will include the legendary, enigmatic small sculpture With Hidden Noise (1916) by Marcel Duchamp; John Cage’s famous musical composition 4’33” (1952), a score for piano performance involving no notes or actual playing for the time specified in its title; Joseph Beuys’s sculpture, The Silence (1973); Robert Morris’s icon of Minimal and Conceptual Art, Box With the Sound of Its Own Making (1961); a film of a 1972 silent performance in London’s Hyde Park by Marcel Broodthaers, “Speaker’s Corner”; and documentation of One Year Performance 1978-1979 (Cage Piece) by Tehching Hsieh, in which the artist spent a year in a cage without speaking, reading, writing, or listening to radio or TV.

Silence will also present performances by musicians and performing artists, including pianist Sarah Rothenberg and choreographer Deborah Hay, a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater known for working without musical accompaniment.

Organized by Toby Kamps, curator of modern and contemporary art,Silence will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue containing interpretive essays by Kamps and other contributors.

All exhibitions are generously supported by the City of Houston.

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