Former Byzantine Chapel at Menil Takes on “The Infinity Machine”

Colin Conner ’15

Three years ago, the Menil Collection returned the ethereal 13th century mosaic frescoes to the nation of Cyprus.  This was done under an agreement made many years ago when Dominique de Menil rescued the frescoes from being cut up and sold off by art thieves.  Cyprus remained the owner of the frescoes, but Houstonians were privileged to enjoy them in the Byzantine Chapel, on loan, until Cyprus was able to display them again.

Now that they have been returned, the amazing chapel that was designed specifically to showcase the frescoes has remained empty. That is, until recently, when it was recreated as a space for long term site-specific art installations.  The first of which opened at the end of January and is the work of Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.​

Their work is called “The Infinity Machine” and consists of large rotating mirrors that produce intriguing shadows in the dark recesses of the former chapel.  In addition to the mirrors, sounds swirl throughout the room.  These sounds have been interpreted by visitors in a variety of ways such as the chanting of thousands of yogi. In fact, the sounds being piped through the exhibit are digitally translated recordings of electromagnetic fields taken by NASA’s Voyager I and II probes as they passed by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

The architect of the chapel Francois de Menil, the son of the late iconic art collector, is very happy to see the space in use again. He actually recommended that Cardiff and Miller be commissioned to re-invent the space with a new art installation. So when their schedule finally opened up, they were excited to take on the new commission.​

The Menil collection continues to reinvent itself with this new art space, as well as the Menil Drawing Institute which is breaking ground in March.  This Montrose art empire should be on the list to visit for all Houstonians.