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Visual Art

Houston’s Menil Collection Says Goodbye To Director Josef Helfenstein

Josef Helfenstein chats about his memories at the museum before departing for a new position in Switzerland.


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Picture of Josef Helfenstein
Amy Bishop
After 12 years as director of the Menil Collection, Helfenstein will be departing Houston to become the new director of Kunstmuseum Basel.

Last summer, the Menil Collection's Director Josef Helfenstein had some big news: He'd accepted an offer to be the next director of the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland. At the relief of the Menil staff, however, he said he'd stay in his current position until the end of the year.

So here we are.

Reflecting on the past 12 years in Houston, several accomplishments stand out.

"We did the first master plan ever in the history of the Menil," Helfenstein says. "And now we have actually implemented the first part of that master plan."

That includes the opening of Bistro Menil, along with breaking ground on the new Menil Drawing Institute, set to open in 2017.

"That's one of the achievements I think is most significant, because it will change the institution in a wonderful way in the future," he explains.

Helfenstein adds that, even though they're not obsessed with numbers, it's been rewarding to see the museum double their amount of visitors since he came onboard.

"We also have so many more people using our grounds and taking advantage of what the Menil gives to everyone," he says.

But there's much more in the works as the museum's new campus continues to take shape.

"The museum will have an amazing period coming up," he says. "The drawing institute will open in a year and a half. I think that will be a huge success, I have no doubt. And there will be a new director, so I think a lot of great things will happen in the next two years."

When the native Swiss tells people he's going back to Switzerland, they often make a comment about how nice it must be to return home.

"I really feel home is where your heart is and we have always felt this is home – here, in Houston," he says. "But you know, it's funny. I feel that home is not a geographic thing. It's really where you can live happily and where you can do really important work and that's what I want to do."

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