The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, is one of the great pilgrimage sites in the contemporary art world. Founder and artist, Donald Judd, conceived it as a place to integrate art, architecture and nature. It began with permanent large-scale installations of his own work as well as work by Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain. By Judd’s invitation, it grew to include other artists such as Ilya Kabakov and John Wesley. Each artist’s work is installed in separate buildings or rooms, maximizing their individual vision and aesthetic.
Temporary exhibitions by artists who were meaningful to Judd add to the elaborate presentations. On my recent visit, Hiroshi Sugimoto had a sublime installation which coincides with his concurrent show in New York at Pace Gallery. There was also a tightly curated show of sculpture by Jean Arp. While Judd disliked abstract art resembling the figure, he admired Arp’s sculpture for its sense of “wholeness”, a quality Judd sought in his own work.
Judd was a forward thinker and planner. He first visited Marfa in 1971. After initial support from the Dia Art Foundation in New York, the Chinati Foundation opened to the public in 1986 as an independent, non-profit, publicly funded institution. It covers 340 acres on the site of former Fort D.A. Russell and also includes some buildings in the center of town. Fort D. A. Russell was an American military installation active in various forms from 1911-1946. Beginning in 1949 it was divided and sold to local residents. Dia assisted Judd in acquiring the land in the late-seventies. He renovated the buildings but kept their initial footprints.
In addition to Chinati, one can visit the Judd Foundation, site of Judd’s former residence called “The Block”. It includes his extensive art library and studio buildings along with additional permanent installations of his work. Here one fully experiences Judd’s artistic development and his intense preoccupation with material, form, space and color. He was a driven man of vast appetite and ambition which is evident in the legacy he has created. Judd passed away in 1994 at the age of 66.
Ballroom Marfa is another stop of note. An encompassing space for all things contemporary, it supports projects of cultural significance that would be difficult to realize in traditional gallery or museum spaces. The mandate is broad, hosting both emerging and recognized artists, based locally and internationally.
Marfa is a three hour drive in the high desert from either the El Paso or Midland airports. A long way from the desolate town first encountered by Donald Judd, Marfa now hosts serious restaurants and a few good places to stay. Hotel Paisano is a National Historic Landmark that was headquarters for the cast and crew of “Giant”. Restaurant Cochineal, whose predecessor was Etats-Unis in Manhattan, is one among several that offer upscale dining.
As for shopping, check out Prada Marfa. Created by artists Elmgreen and Dragset, it is the consummate send-up of global branding. A permanently installed sculpture, it sits smartly in the middle of nowhere, 37 miles northwest of Marfa.
Of course, getting around in style is always in fashion. Our Suburban felt pretty plain next to this ride.
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