Tilda Swinton mingles with the Max Ernsts at the Houston home and museum of legendary patrons Dominique and John de Menil.
In 1984, Dominique de Menil staged an enormous exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, offering art lovers, for the first time, an in-depth look at the vast collection she and her husband, John, had assembled. The more than 600 works on view ranged from a paleolithic bone carving dating from 22,000–15,000 BC to 20th-century masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Georges Braque. But when it came time to choose an image to represent the show on the posters that would be plastered around the city, Dominique passed over the blue-chip names and dramatically ancient artifacts in favor of a piece by the virtually unknown 19th-century artist Joseph Sacco. Called Oeil de Jeune Femme, it’s a tiny painting of an eye, framed by a brass oval and dark crimson velvet, and placed in a rough leather box. A surreal object made decades before Surrealism, it elegantly summed up, for de Menil, the idea of perception—on the part of the artist, the collector, and the audience.
It is fitting, then, that precisely 30 years after the Grand Palais show, the miniature work is sitting in the gloved hand of the actress Tilda Swinton, a woman who has made a career out of playing with perception: transcending time and gender in Sally Potter’s 1992 film Orlando, passing as an octogenarian dowager in Wes Anderson’s 2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel, and becoming a buck-toothed villain in last year’s sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer. Today, Swinton has come to the Menil Collection, the museum Dominique de Menil founded in Houston, to create a portfolio for W with the photographer Tim Walker.