The Menil Collection Dedication, Typographie, The Morphology of Human Blood Cells, and The John and Dominique deMenil Collection

The Menil Collection Dedication
Dominique de Menil
June 4, 1987
Program designed by Don Quintance
Public Address Design
Opening Night Gala Menu included

The Menil Collection celebrated it’s thirtieth anniversary in 2017. Thirty years of making art accessible to all and fostering personal encounters with works of art. It’s a beloved respite in a city where, putting it nicely, beauty is hard to come by. It transformed the cultural landscape of Houston in a remarkable way and, for us at least, made this city a place worth living. The museum embodies its founders, John and Dominique de Menil, from the architecture to the art.

Tucked away in a glass case at the Rice Village location of Half Price Books was this program for The Menil Collection’s dedication in 1987. In retrospect, the fact that we debated this purchase seems odd—it was such a lucky find, and a relevant and interesting artifact to us. While we couldn’t have been at the opening of the museum ourselves, it’s fun flipping through the program and imaging the day’s festivities. William Middleton describes it in his recent publication about the de Menils:

The day before, thundershowers had swept through town, flooding streams, sweeping cars off roads, and throwing funnel clouds out over Galveston Bay. But the two thousand invited guests were not deterred by a touch of weather. At 5:00 p.m., just in time for the local news, all eyes were fixed on the new museum. “The event is grabbing the attention of the art world and getting word out that Houston has more to offer than cowboy hats and pickup trucks,” announced one local reporter.

“The New York Times says the collection could make Houston a center for the visual arts,” suggested a newsman. “That’s a switch—just a few years ago, that newspaper said that Houston had a few nice buildings but they were surrounded by 2,000 gas stations.

As Dominique de Menil stepped to the lectern at the entrance of her new museum, surrounded by the blocks of modest bungalows that she and her husband had bought over the years, all painted the same shade of soft gray, she was determined to focus on what really mattered. “Artists are economically useless and yet they are indispensable,” she said with conviction. “A political regime where artists are persecuted is stifling, unbearable…We need painters, poets, musicians, filmmakers, philosophers, dancers, and saints.” And at a moment when she might have been expected to make a case for patronage, she went the other way. It was a small but significant sleight of hand. “The gifted artists are the great benefactors of the world,” Dominique announced. “Life flows from their souls, from their heart, from their fingers. They invite us to celebrate life and to meditate on the mystery of the world, on the mystery of God. Artists constantly open new horizons and challenge our way of looking at things. They bring us back to the essential.” —Excerpt from Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil by William Middleton

Further Reading

The High Society Love Story Behind Dominique and John De Menil’s Legendary Art Collection
By William Middleton

Double Vision, The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil
By William Middleton

A Modern Patronage: The De Menil Gifts to American and European Museums
By Marcia Brennan and Alfred Pacquement

Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil
By Laureen Schipsi and Josef Helfenstein

Sacred Modern: Faith, Activism, and Aesthetics in the Menil Collection
By Pamela G. Smart

 

Typographie: A Manual of Design
Emil Ruder
1967, 1st Edition
Printed by Zollikofer & Co. AG, St.Gall
Bound by R. Weber AG, Heiden
Published by Arthur Niggli Ltd., Teufen AR

Words by Steven Shultz

“Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose.”―Emil Ruder, Typographie

Emil Ruder was born in Zürich, Switzerland in 1914. When he was 15 he began a four-year typesetters apprenticeship and in his late twenties attended the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts. In 1942 at age 28 he began teaching typography and in the ‘50s gained renown as a leading voice in the International Typographic Style movement. In 1967, after twenty-five years of teaching and just 3 years before his death, he would compile his magnum opus, Typographie: A Manual for Design. It is the accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge — summarizing Ruder’s ideas, methods, and approach to typographic design and education.

Typographie has influenced graphic designers and typographers the world over for decades. It has been published in nine languages and is now in its seventh edition, a testament to its continued relevance. Like Josef Albers’s Interaction of Color (1963) it is a masterwork in art education. Through the lens of typography the most universal of design principles are brought into focus — function, form, proportion, color, rhythm, point, line, surface are beautifully unpacked.

Reading Typographie was a reminder of the things I learned in my first years of art school that I’ve somehow forgotten. A profound experience that catapulted me back to my formative years as a designer — when making an interesting composition was challenge enough.

Despite its relevance, it is unmistakably the product of a bygone era. Ruder `writes, “The craft of the typographer, like any other, necessarily reflects the times. The age gives him the means with which to satisfy the needs the age creates.” That said, he was concerned about the amount of information competing for our attention and felt that good design had become something taken for granted. He was critical of the excess of superfluous typefaces available — typefaces the present age made possible. What would He think about the ease with which we make and publish work in 2018?

The Morphology of Human Blood Cells
L.W. Diggs, M.A., M.D., Dorothy Sturm, Ann Bell, B.A.
1957, 2nd Edition
Published by W.B. Saunders Company

Intending to become a book designer, Dorothy Sturm set off to take courses in New York at the age of nineteen. She had an interest in biology, and once visited the laboratory of Dr. Florence Sabin, who was studying the role of the body’s white blood cells in tuberculosis infections at the Rockefeller Institution. Sturm observed her own blood cells through Dr. Sabin’s specially developed microscope, and her curiosity grew. She was fascinated by what the microscope revealed, and took courses in biology to learn more. This passion for the microcosmic world and her talent as an illustrator led her to become a prominent medical illustrator. While it seems she later moved on from this field, she remained an advocate of the relationship between art and science saying, “Art and science naturally go together. Both are investigative endeavors aimed at trying to understand the universe.”

By the 1950’s she started experimenting with paper collage. Her curiosity led her in many directions, and she experimented freely and unrestrictedly with many different mediums (enamel, glass, metal, and found objects). Her work blurred the lines between art and crafts when the distinctions between the two were rigid. She devised her own techniques, developed her own style, and quickly gained recognition.

My personal encounter with Sturm’s work was in the pages of The Morphology of Human Blood Cells, like many Hematology students. Her illustrations, now accompanied by photomicrographs in the book’s seventh edition, are still vital. While a lot of my reference materials from school were packed away after graduation, this one remained at hand for many years. It has since been replaced on our shelves with the 1957 second edition of the text, and it serves more as a work of art.

References

the Archives, “Undergraduates Investigate the Work of Artist Dorothy Sturm: Reflections on Research,” Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 13-Jul-2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.aaa.si.edu/blog/2015/07/undergraduates-investigate-the-work-of-artist-dorothy-sturm-reflections-on-research. [Accessed: 04-Jan-2018]

“Dorothy Sturm,” The Enamel Arts Foundation – Collection. [Online]. Available: http://www.enamelarts.org/index.php?collection&action=view_artist&artist_id=57. [Accessed: 04-Jan-2018]

“Dorothy Sturm,” Self-portrait with dog by Constantin Brancusi on artnet. [Online]. Available: http://www.artnet.com/artists/dorothy-sturm/biography. [Accessed: 05-Jan-2018]

“Master Metalsmith Dorothy Sturm – Ganoksin Jewelry Making Community,” Ganoksin. [Online]. Available: https://www.ganoksin.com/article/master-metalsmith-dorothy-sturm/. [Accessed: 05-Jan-2018]

University of Tennessee Health Science Center, “UTHSC Health Sciences Library,” Go to UTHSC Health Sciences Library. [Online]. Available: https://library.uthsc.edu/history/dorothysturmexhibit/. [Accessed: 04-Jan-2018]

The John and Dominique deMenil Collection
Forward by Robert Goldwater
1962
Designed by William and Caroline Harris
Printed by Manhattan Art Press, Inc.

In writing about the Art of New Guinea exhibition catalog, we came across several interesting publications at Fondren Library including this one titled the John and Dominique de Menil Collection. It was published to accompany an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Primitive Art in 1962, some 25 years before their collection would get a more permanent home at the museum here in Houston.

The Museum of Indigenous Art, as it was originally known, was founded by Aldrich Rockefeller and held in a townhouse that adjoined his childhood home that sat across the MOMA. For almost two decades the museum housed Rockefeller’s ethnographic arts and held many landmark exhibitions at the hand of the museum’s director Robert Goldwater—this one included.

“It is always a privilege for a museum to show an excellent private collection. There is the possibility of enjoying works only rarely seen, and a chance to glimpse—and to speculate on—the cohesive mixture of taste and personality that transforms a gathering of objects into a realized collection. The quality and diversity of the John and Dominique de Menil collection ensure a wonderful opportunity to indulge these pleasures.

But a museum also feels some slight constraint in putting a private collection on public view: how to take it from its natural surroundings without altering its character? It is curious and paradoxical that works of art which have come so far from their original homes and the uses of their original intentions should, once gathered together, somehow belong together. Yet this is what constitutes a good collection, and it is the museum’s task to do its best to conserve the flavor despite the unaccustomed surroundings.”—Richard Goldwater, excerpt from The John and Dominique de Menil Collection.

The bulk of the catalog is devoted to photographs of the collection itself. Our favorite was a full bleed black and white spread of a pair of masks from the Gabon Owgowe River in Mpongwe, Zambia. Their catalog description is succinct, noting only that they were made of soft wood, and white paint, as well as their dimensions 13 and 14 inches, respectively. I photocopied the page a few times with no clear purpose in mind, and tucked them away. Remembering an exhibition of African masks from West and Central Africa at the Menil, I looked back at photographs from our visit. I was hoping to spot the pair of Zambian masks, but had no luck. However, this large colorful mask (pictured below) from Ghana did make an appearance in both.

We later found a place for the photocopy in a series of three over our hutch. I did feel a twinge of uneasiness using the work without permission, but perhaps that is a different, deeper conversation best saved for another day. I found a copy of the catalog online for purchase, second hand, and it eased my conscious for the time being.

Motivator aside, it’s nice to have another publication concerning the de Menils in our collection. As Houstonians, our interest in them is connected to the affection we feel for our city. Hopefully over the years our collection will grow, and we will continue to learn more about them.


Series of three.

The Menil Collection Exhibition of African masks from West and Central Africa.