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Society / Featured Parties

The Menil’s 30th Anniversary Soars to the Stars with $2.5 Million Raised and a Supermoon

Gala Brings Out Worldwide Stars and Houston’s Social Elite

BY // 12.05.17
photography David Brown, Jenny Antill Clifton, Daniel Ortiz

With Max Ernst’s mini-masterpiece Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year as inspiration, the 30th anniversary celebration of The Menil Collection, tagged “Luminous,” soared to the lunar heights suggested in the painting that the artist gifted to Dominique and John de Menil in 1955. The black-tie gala, held beneath a sea of floating orbs (pearls or moons, one might ask), drew Houston creme-de-la-creme along with art world luminaries, their combined largesse bringing the soirée to a resounding success with proceeds of $2.5 million.

Only the fourth gala in the museum’s storied history, this evening was particularly grand with the galleries open for viewing both before and after the seated dinner, which was admirably executed in the hands of Jackson and Company.

Two elaborately decorated party tents (thank you Todd Fiscus) were necessary to accommodate the dinner for close to 600 and the bar scene that preceded the dinner hour and then later kicked into high gear for dancing to the sounds of Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo. Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison, known for his prowess on the keyboard and guitar, made a surprise PA and performed a few sets with Kidjo on stage.

The high energy of the night was palpable from the start as the trio of glam gala chairs — Allison Sarofim in Valentino, Leigh Smith in Elie Saab and Phoebe Tudor in Elizabeth Kennedy — welcomed the well-heeled entourage. Stuart Parr, Reggie Smith and Bobby Tudor joined their ladies in chairing the gala.

Leading the lineup of guests was the evening’s honoree Louisa Stude Sarofim, recognized for her years at the helm of the Menil Foundation as chair and life trustee, having been handpicked by Dominique de Menil as her successor. Board president Janet Hobby served as emcee for the program that saluted Sarofim.

The most heartfelt remarks of the evening came from the honoree’s daughter, Allison. “I often think how lucky I am to be your daughter. You have taught me to be creative, open-minded and independent in both my thoughts and action and to be forever curious . . .  You are a bright star that inspires gently.”

The Supermoon Connection

The timing of the gala was carefully planned to coincide with the eve of the Supermoon, a nod to the full moon rising over the landscape in the Ernst painting that was on view in the museum’s Surrealist galleries. The close friendship between the de Menils and the artist further inspired the gala theme. None shone brighter in the night’s proverbial moonlight than the honoree.

“Over the past decades, Mrs. Sarofim has led the Menil Collection with unwavering grace, determination, and generosity,” said Menil director Rebecca Rabinow, recalling that Dominique de Menil wanted her successor to have “the intellect, sensitivity, and will to keep the de Menils’ vision alive and relevant — someone courageous enough to alter her own life in order to make the enormous commitment of time, energy, and focus required by the task ahead.”

The Menil Collection’s Luminous Gala

Among the numerous notable guests were members of the Menil family including Lois and George de Menil, Andee and Aziz Friedrich, Anne Schlumberger, Susan and Menil Foundation Trustee Francois de Menil and their children Sophie, Conrad, and John.

As is tradition with Menil galas, a number of headliners were in attendance including Korean-born artist JooYoung Choi and her husband Texas’ own Trenton Doyle Hancock, sculptor Michael Heizer and New York-based artist Roni Horn, plus Vogue‘s Hamish Bowles, Los Angeles-based architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee (The Menil Drawing Institute), Picasso’s grandson Bernard Ruiz-Picasso and his wife gallerist Almine Rech, and Caroline Huber, widow of Walter Hopps, The Menil’s founding director.

Special guests representing the night’s sponsors were Holly Moore, PaperCity magazine editor in chief, and Tenenbaum Jewelers’ Tony Bradfield and Kevin Black. The latter provided party favors for femmes — a leather wrap bracelet featuring a shimmering 12 mm freshwater pearl, a nod to the pearl’s oft-quoted relationship to the moon and as the appropriate gift for a 30th anniversary.

The Houston contingent included Menil trustee and vice president Doug Lawing and his partner Guy Hagstette, trustee Janie C. Lee and husband David Warren, Marcy and Tom Wessel, Sara and Bill Morgan, Chinhui and Eddie Allen, Kathryn and Richard RabinowPaul HobbyHouston Grand Opera artistic and musical director Patrick Summers and Beau Miller, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Gary Tinterow and Christopher Gardner, Nancy and Rich Kinder, Lynn Wyatt, Allison Leland, Andrea and Bill White, Susie and Sanford Criner, Janet Gurwitch and Ron Franklin, Randy Powers and Bill Caudell, Penelope and Lester Marks, Martha and Richard Finger, Nancy and Erik Littlejohn, Dorene and Frank Herzog, Aliyya and Herman Stude (she heads Sotheby’s Houston office), Jereann Chaney with daughter Holland, Council Member David Robinson, and Christie’s Jessica Phifer (a leader among the Menil Contemporaries group).

Rounding out the art royals were Texas artists McKay Otto, Salle Werner-Vaughn, and Keith Carter; gallerists Betty Moody, Hiram Butler and husband Andrew Spindler-Roesle, and Kerry Inman and husband Denby Auble; curators Clint Willour and the MFAH’s Alison Greene; Pulitzer Arts Foundation director Kristina Van Dyke with Jeff Fort; Suzanne Deal Booth (who endowed the Turrell Skyspace at Rice and was an intern for de Menil); private dealer Britt Sager in from London; Ballroom Marfa founder Fairfax Dorn with her husband, Pace Gallery’s Marc Glimcher; and Sotheby’s African and Oceanic department head Alexander Grogan.

Catherine Anspon contributed to this article.

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