The Menil Collection to present Dream Monuments: Drawing in the 1960s and 1970s

Exhibition opening May 21, 2021, at the Menil Drawing Institute explores the role of drawing in monumental forms

The Menil Collection will present the Dream Monuments: Drawing in the 1960s and 1970s, exclusively on view at the Menil Drawing Institute from May 21–September 19, 2021.

Proposed Colossal Monument for Park Avenue, New York – Bowling Balls Artist: Claes Oldenburg 1967

Dream Monuments presents drawings that challenge the conventional idea of the monument as a permanent, grand, or commemorative form. The provisional character of drawing helped artists impossible conditions, radically transforming the monument to have a new set of sensibilities.

Scaled to the size of the page but enormous in ambition, these works rethink history while rendering environments at turns as absurd, surreal, and subjective. The exhibition takes its inspiration from the unrealized exhibition “Dream Monuments,” planned by the Menil Collection’s founders Dominique and John de Menil. Letters, interviews, and notes indicate the potential directions the couple considered when developing their theme.

One idea, formulated in June 1968, was an exhibition focusing on “strange monuments, either allegorical or historical,” in which “drawings and models by contemporary artists as Oldenburg, Christo, and others” would be shown alongside 19th-century and early 20th-century equivalents. By 1969, the project included plans for large-scale, site-specific sculptures—or, in Dominique de Menil’s words, monuments”—intended for parks and other public spaces in the greater Houston area.

When the de Menils decided to include contemporary artworks, both as drawings and models in the exhibition and as public sculptures throughout Houston, it brought them to a broader rethinking of the term “monument.”

Rebecca Rabinow, director of the Menil Collection, said: “Drawing is a space for dreaming, allowing artists to explore both the possible and the impossible. As such, Dream Monuments addresses how artists have radically transformed the concept of a monument, moving beyond traditional ideas of commemorative forms or historical markers. These works will challenge viewers’ beliefs, ideas, and perceptions of their own environments. Utilizing Dominique and John de Menil’s original vision and commissions for this exhibition, the curators have
expanded the selection of artists from the 1960s and 70s to include more women and artists of color who were exploring these topics as well. The timing of this show coincides with a moment when the world is examining what a monument is and what it should be, bringing new perspective to the initial vision for the exhibition. The museum looks forward to exploring presentday conversations through online programming, which will be announced in the coming months.”

CA 6951.1 Work on paper (Drawing) Robert Smithson Cambrian Map of Sulfur and Tar, 1969

With the unfinished project as a point of departure, Dream Monuments: Drawing in the 1960s and 1970s is organized into four thematic sections that trace the ways in which artists developed studies, proposals, and drawings conceived for the page alone. The exhibition marks the first time that a selection of drawings submitted for the original “Dream Monuments” project have been displayed together.

The drawings are placed in dialogue with those by contemporaries who also sought new approaches to representing monumentality. The works on view constitute the foundation for a broader view of how artists grappled with the concept of monumentality during the 1960s and 70s.

Kelly Montana, assistant curator at the Menil Drawing Institute, said: “With this exhibition, we are thrilled to bring to light one of the hidden gems of the de Menil archives. Placing these historic, yet underknown, proposals in dialogue with other artists working in the same period will constitute a new foundation for interpreting this era of art history.”

On display will be works by Alice Aycock, Beverly Buchanan, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Mel Chin, Christo, Walter De Maria, Agnes Denes, Mary Beth Edelson, Jackie Ferrara, Gray Foy, Michael Heizer, Will Insley, Richard Long, Marta Minujín, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Smithson, and Michelle Stuart.

Dream Monuments is co-curated by Erica DiBenedetto, guest curator, and Kelly Montana, Assistant Curator at the Menil Drawing Institute. This exhibition features works from the Menil’s holdings as well as key loans from collections in New York, Texas, and Washington, DC.

Photos courtesy of The Menil Collection