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Gifts of Art

A Modern Patronage

Review by Christopher Dow


It might seem odd to devote the lush opulence of a coffee table art book to a couple of art connoisseurs, but when the connoisseurs are John and Dominique de Menil, the format makes perfect sense.


The de Menils spent several decades collecting “things in which we believe,” as John phrased it, to develop one of the world’s most inspired art collections. Luckily for Houston, the majority of their art is housed here in The Menil Collection, but the de Menils also were extraordinarily generous in donating artworks to museums elsewhere. That process of collection and dissemination is traced admirably by A Modern Patronage: de Menil Gifts to American and European Museums (The Menil Collection/Yale University Press, 2007), by Marcia Brennan, associate professor of art history at Rice University; Alfred Pacquement, director of the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris; and Ann Temkin, the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Paintings and Sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


The book showcases some fifty works from such diverse artists as Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol and Christo, among others, as well as numerous pieces from the de Menils’ outstanding African, Oceanic, and pre-Columbian collections. Many are reproduced in large-format, full-color images that are interspersed with engaging text that describes how the de Menils built their collection and then gave it to the world.




Reprinted from Rice Magazine, #2, 2009.

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