Abstract Expressionism

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back to Early/Mid 1964: Mark Rothko is commissioned to do the Rothko Chapel

From Ariel Levy, "Chasing Dash Snow," New York magazine January 15, 2007:

"Dominique Schlumberger, a French heiress with fortunes in the textile and oil-field markets, met John De Menil at a ball at Versailles. They were married in 1931, when she was 22 and De Menil was 27. Upon returning from their Moroccan honeymoon, they commissioned Max Ernst to paint Dominique’s portrait and rode on horseback down the Bois de Boulogne. It was a grand life until the Nazis invaded France, at which point Dominique fled Paris for Cuba with her children; the eldest, Christophe, had chicken pox. Decades later, Christophe De Menil married the Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman long before his second wife gave birth to the actress Uma Thurman, and the couple had a daughter together, named Taya, who is the mother Dash Snow refers to as a scumbag.

But some important things in the art world happened along the way. The De Menils ended up in Houston, where they started collecting important works by Léger, Matisse, Cézanne, Braque, Picasso, which they kept in the vast home they had designed by Philip Johnson. The radical European collectors stood out in Texas, and they had the politics to match. The De Menils regularly invited black guests to dinner during the era of segregation. They attempted to give a sculpture called Broken Obelisk to the city, but Houston refused their condition that it be dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (It sits in front of the Rothko Chapel, also financed by the De Menils.) When John died, his funeral was attended by a local contingent from the Black Panther Party.

In her lifetime, Dominique was regularly listed in Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest people in America. After the war, the family would return to France from time to time, to Val-Richer, the Schlumberger family estate in Normandy, a renovated eleventh-century abbey. 'Each branch of the Schlumberger clan has a wing,' Dash Snow’s grandmother Christophe De Menil told a reporter in 1986. 'It gives us a strong family feeling.'

In fact, it was Christophe who first became interested in modern art and encouraged her parents to become collectors. Over time, she and her four siblings would use their enormous wealth to promote the arts: Christophe’s sister Philipa De Menil concentrated the bulk of her inheritance in the Dia Art Foundation, which she founded with her husband in 1974. Dia funded, for example, Donald Judd’s majestic installation in Marfa, Texas, and Walter DeMaria’s Lightning Field in New Mexico.

Christophe De Menil still works with the family’s museum in Houston; in addition, she designs costumes for Robert Wilson and has supported many dance greats and performance artists, like Twyla Tharp, Philip Glass, and LaMonte Young..."

back to Early/Mid 1964: Mark Rothko is commissioned to do the Rothko Chapel