The much-anticipated Menil Drawing Institute has finally arrived, and it’s proved worth the wait. On the drawing board for more than a decade, the nation’s first free-standing building devoted to artwork on paper has already garnered much ink and admiration from the local art world and beyond—and not just for its looks. The 30,000-square-foot, $40-million institute accomplishes multiple feats, serving as a home not only for 2,000 drawings by top 20th century artists but also for its mission to study, store and conserve great art. “It’s where we’ll train the next generation of drawing curators,” says Rebecca Rabinow, director of The Menil Collection.
Appropriately, a next-gen architectural firm Johnston Marklee won the bid, prevailing over starchitects from Mexico City, London and Tokyo. “Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee’s proposal was forward-thinking yet respectful of past Menil architects,” Rabinow says. “They understood the needs of paper, which is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, humidity and particularly light.” To transition visitors’ eyes from the harsh Texas sunlight outdoors to the darker galleries within, Johnston Marklee subtly dimmed the lights, starting with a canopy of huge live oaks, then a covered patio and an entry with windows.
Though tiny in physical stature, co-founder Dominique de Menil cast a large shadow on the project, leaving behind her vision for the first addition to be constructed on the 30-acre neighborhood campus since her death in 1997. “She wanted a building that seamlessly integrated into the neighborhood, that felt small on the outside while being expansive inside,” Rabinow says. De Menil and her late husband, John, also bequeathed one of the world’s largest and finest collections of 20th century paper works. These include drawings by pop artist Claes Oldenburg, surrealist Man Ray, abstract expressionist Lee Krasner, collage-maker Perle Fine, and cubists Fernand Léger and Juan Gris.