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Hedge-Fund Chief, Picasso Heir to Toast Rare Menil Gala

Jean and Dominique de Menil
Philanthropists and art collectors John and Dominique de Menil. The couple's passion for art became the Menil Collection, a Houston-based museum which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Source: Menil Collection/via Bloomberg

Houston’s Menil Collection will celebrate its 25th anniversary tomorrow night with a sold-out party that has already raised $2.2 million, well beyond its $1.5 million goal.

It’s only the third gala staged by the free museum, which holds a major art collection including works by Paul Cezanne, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol. An endowment of about $200 million and generous support from the board, donors and corporate sponsors keeps the budget healthy.

“We now raise about 40 percent of our operating budget” without galas, the director, Josef Helfenstein, said by phone.

Designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 1987, the museum houses the once-private collection of France-born John and Dominique de Menil, who moved to Houston from Europe before World War II.

In 1945, John de Menil paid $300 for a Cezanne watercolor that he brought home from New York in his suitcase. The couple became addicted to collecting and ended up with more than 16,000 artworks.

The gala’s theme, “Celebration in Blue,” pays tribute to Yves Klein, a leader of the 1960s new-realism movement in painting and a de Menil family friend. Blue will dominate the large tent used for cocktails and dinner, and in the museum’s main foyer. Some of Klein’s works also will be on display.

Picasso Grandson

The more than 700 guests will include John D. Arnold, founder and manager of hedge fund Centaurus Energy LP, who retired this year after 17 years as an energy trader; Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the grandson of Pablo Picasso; New York philanthropist Agnes Gund, president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art; and Paal Kibsgaard, chief executive officer of Houston-based oilfield-services giant Schlumberger Ltd. (Dominique de Menil, the daughter of Conrad and Louise Schlumberger, was the heiress to the Schlumberger fortune.)

While dining on stuffed quail, patrons and guests will see a slide show about the Menil’s history.

“We want to look back and we want to move forward,” Helfenstein said about the evening. “Since we don’t do this very often, we’d like to strike a balance.”

More money is expected to be raised from the evening’s silent art auction. The 31 lots include works by Maurizio Cattelan, Ed Ruscha; Olafur Eliasson and Richard Serra. The proceeds from the gala and auction will support operations and exhibitions of the Menil, which has a $16 million budget.

Helfenstein said the museum plans to boost the contemporary-art collection and build the Menil Drawing Institute that will house and exhibit modernist and contemporary works.

“Twenty-five years means you’re out of college and you’re not 18 anymore,” Helfenstein said about the collection. “We’re part of the community, and we’re stewards of our own legacy.”

Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on technology, Jason Harper on cars.

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