Arts / Museums

American Art Master Gives Menil Backers the Ultimate Insider Experience — a Taste of Brice Marden’s World

A Houston Dinner Like No Other

BY // 03.25.20
photography Daniel Ortiz

The most sublime night this spring came before the world changed: one exquisite dinner party, which remains in my memory as a talisman of a time that we hope soon returns.

On this balmy evening, 70 lucky and well-connected guests savored the ultimate insider experience: dinner with an incontestable American master. Not a blustery talent, but one who whispers with importance — artist Brice Marden.

The venue was intimate, elevated, and unique: the Menil Drawing Institute. The occasion was the opening of a lifetime survey of Marden’s drawings (once the MDI reopens, on view through June 14).

The exhibition encompasses touchstones of Marden’s practice, including the minimalist 1970s series “The Seasons,” inspired by the painter’s visit to the Rothko Chapel soon after it opened, and the calligraphic “Cold Mountain Studies” of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

The artist, low-key this night with a black woolen cap pulled low over his forehead, is a staple of The Menil Collection and has long been coming to Houston.

Dominique de Menil organized the 1975 exhibition at Rice Museum that debuted Brice Marden’s “Seasons.” Marden’s work was shown alongside paintings by Mark Rothko (from the artist’s “Rothko Chapel” series) and an installation by David Novros. (Exhibition catalog: “Marden, Novros, Rothko: Painting in the Age of Spirituality,” published by Institute for the Arts, Rice University, 1978) (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Dominique de Menil organized the 1975 exhibition at Rice Museum that debuted Brice Marden’s Seasons. Marden’s work was shown alongside paintings by Mark Rothko (from the artist’s “Rothko Chapel” series) and an installation by David Novros. (Exhibition catalog: Marden, Novros, Rothko: Painting in the Age of Actuality, published by Institute for the Arts, Rice University, 1978)

After cocktails and viewing, art acolytes adjourned to the MDI’s serene entrance hall. A long, long table adorned with simple spring flowers punctuated the space, where City Kitchen presented a three-course dinner.

The menu was crafted based upon the artist’s request for classic Texas fare: a wedge salad, beef tenderloin as main course, berry cobbler as the finale.

Menil director Rebecca Rabinow welcomed the crowd, then exhibition curator Kelly Montana contributed remarks, praising Marden’s “processes of innovation and permutation” and “remarkable draftsmanship” across six series, traversing the 20th and 21st centuries.

Marveling at Marden: François de Menil; the artist’s wife, Helen Marden; MDI chief curator Edouard Kopp and curator emerita Bernice Rose; Janie C. Lee; board chair emerita Louisa Stude Sarofim, seated next to the artist, joined by board chair Janet Hobby and board prez Doug Lawing; Leslie and Brad Bucher; Chinhui and Eddie Allen; Barbara and Gerald Hines; artist Salle Werner-Vaughn; Carol and David Neuberger; MDI architect Sharon Johnston of Johnston and Marklee, in from L.A.; Schlumberger’s Paula Harris; Diane and Michael Cannon; Barbara and Michael Gamson; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Lois Stark; Elizabeth Satel Young and Barry Young; The New York TimesCarol Vogel, who penned a recent feature on the artist; Texas Gallery’s Fredericka Hunter and Ian Glennie; Judy Nyquist; Julie and John Cogan Jr.; Lea Weingarten; Martha Claire Tompkins; Gagosian Gallery’s Kara Vander Weg and Mark Francis; and from the artist’s studio, Lois Masterson, Noah Dillon, and Tyler Drosdeck.

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