Birth of the Cool

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My first exposure, at age twenty-nine, to modern and contemporary art was at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center. I’d read about Picasso, Degas, and Van Gogh but in my middle class, Nebraska life, if anything was hanging on the living room walls it was likely a Norman Rockwell or Margaret Keane reproduction or a picture of a sad clown (no irony was intended). “Cool” Midwesterners, who were to the left of Ike, hung Henry Rousseau, Georges Rouault, or an impressionistic wall plaque.

Norman_Rockwell.jpg  Keane.jpg   Sad_clown.jpg

Sleeping_gypsy.jpg   Rouault.jpg  Guitars.jpg

Entering the Walker’s first gallery in 1972, I felt both exhilarated and confused when I saw Chuck Close’s Big Self Portrait, Andy Warhol’s White Brillo Box, and Alexander Calder’s Eyes and Feathers; I had the same emotions when I first heard Miles Davis—Whaaaattt?!??! Of course art that blew my mind in the seventies is considered mainstream today (but certainly not Miles Davis). The Sweetie and I go to the Walker whenever we’re within hollering distance of the Twin Cities and every time we exit through the gift shop, we are stunned and amazed.

Chuck_close.jpgBrillo.jpg Calder.jpg

Anyways, I’m glad to report that my feelings of exhilaration and confusion from forty years ago are still there and can still be tickled. Houston’s Menil did just that. Once again, I am not in the know and had never heard of the Menil Collection, but our apartment is just a Brillo pad’s throw away, so I’ve been there three times.

In 1980 Dominique de Menil chose Renzo Piano, who also designed the Broad wing of the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum, to design a building that would exhibit the 17,000 painting, sculptures, prints, and objects she and her husband, John, had collected since the 1940s. The Menil art spaces, all located in a quiet, residential neighborhood, include the Menil Collection, the Cy Twombly Gallery (also designed by Renzo Piano), the Rothko Chapel, the Dan Flavin light installation, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and the gray bungalows lining the streets, now leased by artists and non-profit arts-related organizations.

Admission to all the museums and galleries in the Menil neighborhood is free to the public. Photography is not allowed at any of the collections, so the only shots I got are of the exterior spaces and one I snapped before the guard informed me of my forbidden behavior. I borrowed the rest from Getty Images and Mr. Google.

Menil Collection, front entrance

Cy Twombly Gallery

Mark Rothko Chapel

Dan Flavin Installation

My favorite room is “Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision“, a collection of odd and exotic “non-Western” objects and “visual puns” owned by the Surrealists and curated by anthropologist Edmund Carpenter for the Menil Collection.

Mickey Mouse Kachina, Arizona Hopi tribe, 1950

Man Ray, Noire et Blanche, 1926

Victor Brauner, The Nuptial March of the Sorcerer, 1947

Max Ernst, Le surreálisme et la peinture



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3 Responses to Birth of the Cool

  1. Jenni says:

    Love this! Thanks. Piano did the new wing at the Art Institue of Chicago, too. Wonderful!

  2. Patty says:

    Lovely and inspiring works! Thanks for your guided viewing! MB is full on lovely! Great Weather, folks, beach and Baba😍

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