DRAWING A NEW LEGACY
Menil Drawing Institute Brings Art Form to Forefront of Study, Exhibition
By Sam Byrd
Fresh on the heels of reopening the Renzo Piano-designed The Menil Collection (after months of refurbishing and upgrades), the nonprofit this month swings open the doors to the new Menil Drawing Institute. Adding to the world-famous artifacts and free exhibitions, the institute is a freestanding facility built expressly for the acquisition, exhibition, study, conservation and storage of modern and contemporary drawings.
"These are all extensions of how the Menil operates. It’s an avocation of how one would experience the building as they would experience the same thing in a home. It’s an extension of generosity to the public of a lovely setting in a domestic feeling space," says Kelly Montana, assistant curator at the Menil Drawing Institute.
The MDI stretches 30,150 square feet, with a 17,000-square foot footprint and 16-foot walls. The construction totaled $40 million and was designed by architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Los Angeles-based Johnston Marklee. The interior features white oak wood floors, floors made of architectural concrete, plaster walls and ceilings, and painted wood paneling. The exterior boasts painted steel plate, stained Port Orford cedar, architectural concrete and steel-framed glazing.
Other design features include a relationship to the landscape, a playful interaction with light, and a co-habitation of public and professional space. Expansive lawns and live oaks are unmistakable features at the site. As visitors approach and enter the institute, the design naturally and incrementally reduces the amount of sunlight by means of the canopy of surrounding trees and the building's roof. More controlled gradients of artificial light define areas for exhibition and storage.
A "living room" runs between the west and east entrance courtyards. On the north, the living room gives access to administrative offices on one side of the scholars' cloister and to study rooms and the conservation lab on the other. On the south side, the space opens into the exhibition galleries.
"To have an institute that mirrors the ones in Europe shows a deep appreciation of drawing and a camaraderie of drawings that you have to crowd around and look at together. Instead of having a prolonged look at an artist, we're looking at a particular medium," Montana says.
The Menil Drawing Institute will serve as a foil to its other initiatives, with a heavy focus on preservation and study of the art form.
"For us, it’s building out the academic component. We're getting young scholars out here to visit works of art they cherish. For me, it’s important to make the non-exhibition spaces as vibrant as the exhibition spaces, to activate the seminar spaces, and to activate the reading rooms and make them as exciting," Montana says.
To accomplish this feat, the Menil installed a living room, exhibition gallery, drawing study room, conservation lab, administrative offices, two courtyards and a scholars' cloister, representing more than 16,000 square feet of space.
"We wanted to create these spaces for close looking at drawings and to create an atmosphere for works on paper. The drawings are not just exhibitions, but there’s also research and the public can interface with works of art," Montana says.
The property is furnished with custom collections of benches, tables, ottomans and desk accessories, created in collaboration with Jeff Jamieson of Wood & Plywood Furniture in California. Each piece was inspired by the elemental, structural forms of the building.
The Menil Drawing Institute’s inaugural exhibition is “The Condition of Being Here: Drawings by Jasper Johns,” a show that spans the artist's career. Access to the drawings of Johns have been brought to fruition largely thanks to the generosity of Menil trustees Janie C. Lee and Louisa Stude Sarofim and a bequest from David Whitney.
The exhibition includes 41 drawings made in graphite, ink, charcoal, watercolor, colored pencil, acrylic, water-soluble encaustic, pastel, powdered graphite, gouache and oil stick, on surfaces ranging from paper to plastic.
"It explores the capacity of a medium while undermining the traditions of the medium, which is the story of modern contemporary art," says Kelly Montana, MDI’s assistant curator.
The current exhibit is the third time this living artist has been featured at the Menil. Previous exhibits include “Jasper Johns: The Sculptures” (1996) and “Jasper Johns: Drawings” (2003). The organization will culminate this partnership with a decade's worth of effort to gather and prepare the Jasper Johns Catalogue Raisonné of Drawings. The six-volume work documents more than 800 drawings, beautifully reproduced, including their exhibition and publication histories.
The Menil Collection
Menil Drawing Institute
George Sexton Associates
Guy Nordenson and Associates
Sharon Johnston, Mark Lee
Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
(Building Envelope Engineer)
Tillett Lighting Design Associates