As the Menil Collection begins celebrations for its 30th anniversary this year, Rebecca Rabinow steps into the spotlight as the organization’s new director. After more than two decades as a curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the St. John’s School alum has traded in the concrete jungle for leafy Montrose. Here, she gets excited about her new role and shares a few details about the milestone year ahead.
You volunteered at the Menil in 1988, just after it opened, archiving Dominique and John de Menil’s correspondence with various artists. What was the most interesting thing you read?
I can’t remember a specific quote, but the access to the artists’ words and intentions, seeing their handwriting—that was an amazing thing. Looking back, I don’t know if I could’ve identified the time as pivotal, but it was the first understanding I had that I wanted to work in a museum.
What are the greatest differences you’ve noticed between the Menil and the Met?
I would actually say there are a lot of similarities. The caliber of people, the commitment of the staff to the institution. The quality of the collection too. The Met is many times larger, so there’s an obvious difference in scale, but another is the approach to viewing art. Just like individuals, museums should be different. If they were all the same, it would be boring.
What are a few of your favorite pieces in the collection?
I have yet to see a work that doesn’t interest me. I’m still learning. Because it’s rarely crowded, you can go into the Cy Twombly gallery and chances are there’s only a handful of people. There’s something about his art that benefits from that intimacy. There’s a musical quality that you can hear. Some art just begs a one-on-one. The Dan Flavin installation on Richmond Avenue is our biggest secret. And it’s not just the buildings but the neighborhood of art that is interconnected with green spaces. Part of the experience is crossing the landscape. The act of transition prepares you to see and look, whether you realize it or not.
The Menil celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. What’s on the calendar?
An exhibit on West African art from the Dogon region opens this month, and two of the best-known artists of Mali—who have never had shows in America—are creating work to display along with more historic pieces. We have lots of activities planned for the year that really reflect the spectrum. This coming fall is going to be fireworks as we open the new Menil Drawing Institute, and Dec. 2, we celebrate with a gala honoring Louisa Stude Sarofim. It’s thanks to her, and so many others, that we continue to thrive.