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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Menil features influential German artist

The works of innovative German artist Max Ernst, who created the collage, decalcomania, grattage and frottage, come together for the celebratory exhibition Max Ernst in the Garden of Nymph Ancolie, running from Friday to Feb. 15, 2009 at The Menil Collection. A public program will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009 at 7 p.m. involving a conversation with the Menil Director Josef Helfenstein and art historian William A. Camfield.

The highlight of Ernst’s exhibition is his only existing mural, painted for a Zurich nightclub, "P’eacute;tales et jardin de la nymphe Ancolie (Petals and Garden of Nymph Ancolie)," and will be unveiled for the first time in its fully refurbished state. The centerpiece stands as a grand work that casts a vibrant, surrealist bird-like figure appearing from red and gold flower petals. It also represents Ernst’s theme of Europe’s joie de vivre (the joy of living) amidst the political and social turmoil of the world wars.

The full exhibition covers around 120 of the artist’s familiar and rarely seen paintings, drawings and sculptures from the 1930s to the 1940s. Emphasis is laid on this period when he depicted the collision of nature, humanity and technology during mankind’s turbulent wars. One of his series of paintings, Jardin gobe-avions (Garden airplane trap), for instance, depicts predatory plants devouring airplane parts.

As seen in his selected drawings, he created and used more than a handful of autonomist and chance-based techniques: collotype prints, pencil frottages, photomontages and painted plasters just to name a few. He also held an interest in surrealism as evident in his unusual use of female forms and bird figures. Sometimes these images were used together, such as in the pieces, "Euclid," which portrays a bird-like figure dressed in elegant garbs, and "Figure, Mythological Woman," where a lush, colorful vegetation flourishes behind a human form in an Eve-like representation. A male form is also presented in the photomontage La Sant’eacute; par le sport (Health Through Sport), with a butterfly taking the form of his face.

Birds are held in a special reverence in Ernst’s work as they are scattered throughout his art. He paints a few of his paintings, "’Eacute;loge de la libert’eacute; (In Praise of Freedom)" and "For’t (Forest)," with a prominent dark background that makes a lone, miniscule bird more visible.

His sculptures, on the other hand, are bare and abstract pieces that mostly embody people, sometimes engaging in an activity or conveying an emotion, such as in the "Jeune homme au coeur battant (Young Man with a Fluttering Heart)" and "The King Playing with the Queen." Another bird representation is shown in the very tall sculpture "Le G’eacute;nie de la Bastille (The Spirit of the Bastille)" with a majestic bird on top, resembling the significant look and meaning of a Native American totem pole.

The background of Max Ernst’s work hits close to home. Art collectors John and Dominique de Menil developed a lifelong friendship with the influential figure and hosted his first solo museum exhibition in the U.S. Director Josef Helfenstein says that "the unveiling of the newly restored mural constitutes an art event of historical significance. It also marks a particularly exciting moment for the Menil, and for Houston, where this artist has always held a special place."

This collection should not be missed. Ernst created the best of modern art and should still be recognized today.

The exhibition is open free of charge Wednesday through Sunday. Visit for more information.

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