"You just come out here and you feel like, I want to make something; I want to do something!" So the artsy population is limited: to the wealthy with their part-time homes, temporary residents on prestigious fellowships from such places as the Lannan Foundation, and the truly hardcore. Chinati was always, as Weiner puts it now, “watering the culture of the place. All rights reserved. For a time Chinati paid no curatorial salaries. That's all you can get.' And for a town of only about 2,000 people, you can amuse yourself nightly with screenings, readings and, of course, gallery shows, like the one for sculptor Campbell Bosworth. hide caption. Tell us about it. Thompson, the historian, who passed away in January, described Marfa’s renewal as a three-phase process: Judd’s establishing of Chinati, in 1979; the arrival of Texas attorneys and law-school classmates Pablo Alvarado (who grew up in Marfa) and Tim Crowley in the late 90s; and the arrival of arts foundations and nonprofits beyond Chinati, most prominent among them the Santa Fe-based Lannan Foundation, which owns five homes that serve as writers’ residences, and Ballroom Marfa, described by The New York Times as “a certified alternative space,” which took over an old dance hall, started a concert series (Lyle Lovett, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo), and is planning the construction of (presumably) the world’s first art-house drive-in movie theater. Prada, Marfa is a faux boutique displaying luxury bags and shoes in the middle of the sparse Texas landscape. When I got here I saw Don Judd sitting on a corner.” It was the late 70s, and Irwin had had no idea that Judd was in Texas. But Marfa isn’t an outsider redoubt of the sort the Unabomber might have favored (even if David Kaczynski, his brother, did live in isolation nearby). But walk out of Elrod’s studio, and there is silence and space—to think, to create a waking dream. Judd acquired an entire disused army base and began to fill it with his own minimalist works and those of his contemporaries, inside and out. She made a roomful of work in Marfa for her recent show at the Tate Liverpool. From the mid-1950s to 1961, as he started to explore the medium of the woodcut, Judd progressively moved from figurative to increasingly abstract imagery, first carving organic rounded shapes, then moving on to the painstaking craftsmanship of straight lines and angles. Some of the first documentation of the area comes from accounts of mobile, luminous pinpoints on the horizon—the Marfa Mystery Lights. Irwin took a sip of a margarita (salted rim) and said, “The first time I came to Marfa it was really cold in L.A. The distinction between these two foundations is almost arbitrary. !” woman, “Do you speak Italian?”, She said, “That’s the only Italian I know.”. During a rock festival on the edge of town a local covered 250 cars’ bumpers with stickers reading, KEEP AUSTIN THERE (a slap back on the capital’s self-satisfied slogan, “Keep Austin Weird”). The studio serves as a clubhouse/greenroom/crash pad for artists, musicians, and filmmakers. Beauty is a very special and noble state Yet Judd fervently believes that such an idealistic notion of beauty … is, in the end, much too limited. His vantage point was a rooftop (in fact, our rooftop) at the edge of the Far West Texas town of Marfa. Judd believed that art was more easily and appropriately understood when displayed permanently. ". The tiny West Texas border town of Marfa is 200 miles from anywhere, but after the late minimalist artist Donald Judd acquired dozens of its buildings, … He carried on up the East Coast, all along Canada, and back home to L.A. “I circled it,” Irwin said. Vegan food, straw bale houses and funky bars filled with artsy kids clinking Shiner Bocks with famous painters and film directors. She once said, “I’m always impressed when you can feel diminished by the natural world Things can hurt you here—plants, snakes, bugs. “Oh,” she said. He has been working on plans for the renovation of this structure for more than a decade. In 2011 two chefs from Virginia’s acclaimed Inn at Little Washington briefly opened a place called Miniature Rooster in an old gas station, serving a mix of southern and Indian food—it’s now a catering company. Weiner and Stockebrand also continued Judd’s tradition of annual open-house weekends with music, a barbecue for the whole town, a bonfire, and offering the use of empty exhibition space for pretty much any local artist or performer with an idea. "I thought the blocks there along the highway were leftover debris from the military base," she confesses. "It's also a highly critical community, so people will let you know if it's second- or third-rate or whatever," he says. Not an art patron but just curious. With high-end restaurants, concerts, and theater (think André Gregory directing Endgame), it’s a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too sort of outsiderness. "They speak about Marfa with the same kind of reverent tones generally reserved for the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Lourdes," notes Carolina Miranda, a writer who covers the art world. Marfa’s internationally-renowned art scene is inextricably linked with this iconic landscape. Marianne Stockebrand, a German curator who was Judd’s partner for the last five years of his life, and Rob Weiner, Judd’s former assistant, were trying to figure out how to maintain a world-class collection of minimalist art with no money in the middle of nowhere, in a town that was indifferent or even hostile to their mission. Two border-patrol S.U.V.’s idled down the road, observing. It all started when the acclaimed minimalist artist Donald Judd left New York City in the 1970s for this dusty dot of a town. Ever since 1972, when New Yorker Donald Judd picked up his minimalist canvases and sculptures and planted them decisively in the unlikely town of Marfa, in West Texas, artists … One hundred of them, made of silvery milled aluminum, are housed in two old brick artillery sheds. It was created in 2005 by artist duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Like, 'Oh, perfect, our NPR station.' Then I got back in my car I made it all the way down to Key West, and when I got there I thought, Well, now I’m committed.”. Yet Marfans know the alternative would be worse. You know how much I love Judd’s work. Read more. Aregularly posed question: Is Marfa like Santa Fe? When it was proposed that the group head out and visit the border-patrol checkpoint, five miles south of town—naked—we went back to Elrod’s. And then there are the people trying to escape the escapists. The Judd Foundation took on the private side of Judd, and Chinati became the more pronouncedly public face. And then you enter, and then we're like, 'Oh, look at this restaurant — they have vegan food!' Chinati was in mourning. Irwin finished the drink. “Ben Schonzeit, the painter, is in town visiting his son,” she told us. Next she began to laugh. Manic laughter. “What kind of French movie?,” Teal Dress wanted to know. He had been travelling all over the South-west, seeking space, and his search ended in Marfa and its empty, uninterrupted landscape. A Connecticut shipping executive keeps a 1950s Nash-Healey here and has a mechanic on retainer, like a groom, for maintenance. Fort Davis gets the tourists who want the Wild West, and the relocated baby-boomers who don’t know any better go to Alpine.” Judd’s sculptures may sell for six to eight figures, but he remains a rarefied pleasure, virtually unknown in the world at large. Wanting to be a part of that narrative as it unfolds compels us to stay. Citoyen du Monde Inc/Flickr Judd Foundation maintains and preserves Donald Judd’s permanently installed living and working spaces, libraries, and archives in New York and Marfa, Texas. Notable recent shade seekers include Richard Hell, Robert Plant, David Byrne, and, lest you think Marfa really is a coastal Utopia, Karl Rove, who slept in a vintage camper at El Cosmico, a field full of rent-by-the-night Airstreams. Yoga classes are held there in the morning. It's taking place a few blocks from Marfa's single stoplight in a slightly dilapidated white adobe church. It’s exciting.” Rudi Fuchs, the longtime director of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum (Holland’s MoMA), proclaimed the vistas “terrifying.” In 2000 we bought a two-room sheep shed at the edge of town, now our second home. Staged tableaux of various languid diplomats in a subcontinental French consulate were overlaid with passages of poetry. She sold the lot in two weeks, transforming his career. "Hi, can I get you guys something?" hide caption. Part of the thrill of being in Marfa is adding to what Judd left undone. Don Culbertson, who runs a Marfa medical clinic, describes the two adjacent towns, Fort Davis and Alpine (each 25 miles closer to “civilization”), as “hair catchers in the shower. The film contained no leprosy. When Judd installed a kilometer-long series of large concrete boxes at the edge of the property, ranchers said jokingly that they were square drainage culverts. Hollander did an animated impression of Doris Lessing’s reaction when she won the Nobel Prize. The works, printed on handmade Korean paper by Marfa’s Arber and Son Editions, are curated by Judd’s son, Flavin Judd. candidate from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; and a young curator who had publicly stated her opinion that the authors of this article were “provincial” (owing, we guessed, to our early departure from a lecture she’d organized … which led us to further surmise that she’d intended to denounce us as philistines but got confused). (“Oh Christ,” she said, half dismissing it all.). Art by Judd, Flavin, Long + Jarrod Beck, David Hirschi, Matt Magee, Pard Morisson, Ted Ollier, Alnis Stakle, Hadi Tabatabai & Cecilia Vissers. So I drove down to San Diego. In the midst of his Marfa project Donald Judd was offered a … Notably absent from the party, though married to Wool, is the abstract painter Charline von Heyl. There was no town. Some of them, she says, have struggled with Marfa's transformation, including her own parents. Judd purchased dozens of buildings with the help of the New York–based Dia Art Foundation—which at the time had unlimited access to the Schlumberger oil fortune—and filled them with his own work, as well as pieces by artists he admired, before his death, at the age of 65, in 1994, halfway through the process of creating “permanent installations of contemporary art that are among the largest and most beautiful in the world,” as his New York Times obituary put it. Elrod, “a Puck for the ages,” per Chinati’s Rob Weiner, proffered a whiskey bottle and a pool cue, while a tall, tattooed woman sauntered up, plucked off a player’s hat, and placed it on her own head. Johnson doesn't miss a beat. No one is even keeping track of how much tourism has increased, including Kaki Aufdengarten-Scott, the town's one-woman Chamber of Commerce. Marfa’s population peaked at 5,000 people in the 1940s, when ranching was profitable and 600 soldiers (guarding 200 German P.O.W.’s) were billeted at Chinati. "At one point, even bottling the local water, which is terrific water," he says. ydhsu/Flickr With the help of the DIA Foundation, Judd acquired an entire Army base, and before he died in 1994, he filled it with art, including light installations by Dan Flavin and Judd's own signature boxes. When the man learned DeSimone was originally from Tiburon, California, he said, “So that’s interesting: you come from a place some would call heaven, and you’ve chosen to live in a place that some would call hell.” Yes—that is what we want you to think. At the same time, the Judd Foundation in New York debuted “Prints: 1992,” a New York show of 20 of the artist’s woodcut prints completed prior to his death in 1994 at age 65. !” (What the fuck?! Ad Choices. "He turned on the radio," Kitson said dryly, "and he's like, 'Look! His reply: “Hell yeah, I did. First came Maiya’s, in the early 2000s, an Italian trattoria whose owner-chef was just nominated for a James Beard award. "Sometimes it feels like there's more taking," she says quietly. The location is now as much of a food and design incubator as an art one. He later founded The Chinati Foundation, brought in other minimalist artists, and created his own iconic contemporary art on site. There were a handful of Tex-Mex cafés with flyswatters on the tables and a drive-through window at the local bar. In the years since his death, the town of Marfa has changed radically. The tiny West Texas border town of Marfa is 200 miles from anywhere, but after the late minimalist artist Donald Judd acquired dozens of its buildings, filling them with everything from Rembrandts to light sculptures, art-world pioneers and pilgrims made it their playground. Teal Dress grabbed it and slammed it down on the concrete bar. I knew about the myth of Marfa long before I made the nine-hour trek out west to the town. He helped by declaring that he wasn’t leaving. Art (c) Judd Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, On Location: 50 Years Of Movie Magic In Marfa, Texas, Donald Judd Found Perfect Canvas In Texas Town. In an earlier Web version of this story, as well as the audio, we incorrectly identified sculptor Campbell Bosworth as Campbell Boswell. He wasn’t sure what he was doing. "Straight-laced guy. Art (c) Judd Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY Irwin added, “Hopefully I won’t go facedown in my pudding before it’s done.”. Tamarind … Everyone was up there, sort of captive.” Be they art historians, European-museum directors, or movie stars, they would find one another. The staff worked anyway. The phrase “art pilgrimage” was routinely invoked by thin-on-the-ground visitors. In 1978, with financial support from the Dia Art Foundation, Judd began repairs and renovations to the fort’s historic buildings, followed by the fabrication and installation of artwork. We went to the Masonic Lodge and found a note explaining that the 70s Marguerite Duras movie India Song would be shown later in the evening, signed, “Love, Nicolas.” We went across the street to Maiya’s for a drink. This tiny town perched on the high plains of the Chihuahua desert is nothing less than an arts world station of the cross, like Art Basel in Miami, or Documenta in Germany. Elrod’s studio is, as one local put it, “the center of some scene that defines Marfa for this moment that I think is self-destructive, not sustainable.” It’s hard to argue with this. Tourist numbers are higher than ever. Sign up for our essential daily brief and never miss a story. Dallas, the lights have never been satisfactorily explained. (A Cosmico employee told us, “There were Afghan poppies all around the trailer we gave him.”) Elrod—who “paints” abstractly on a Mac and then painstakingly re-creates the images on canvas, knitting together the handmade and the digital—moved from Brooklyn in 2007 and says, in contrast to the atmosphere of the late 90s, the experience of being in one of the many new restaurants in town is like visiting “a badass international airport bar I’m in a first-class lounge of American Airlines. The spectators were: a sound artist who had collaborated the week before on a piece with Elrod (at Chinati), using audio tracks from the Terminator movies broadcast from aged boom boxes and scavenged MP3 players; a wiry and stoned performance artist who, during the Chinati Foundation Open House Weekend in 2010, incinerated hot dogs over a flaming grill in Elrod’s parking lot and threw them at a crowd that had gathered for an impromptu concert (he now peered out of a nest he’d made amid towers of Elrod’s books); a handful of teenage girls who looked as if they could have been cast in the Larry Clark movie; a visiting M.F.A. Robert Irwin, the octogenarian light-and-space artist, designer of the Getty and lacma gardens, wearer of Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps, looked out at one of the largest unpopulated areas in the contiguous United States. The small desert city of Marfa, Texas, has become an unlikely magnet for artists and art lovers The artist Donald Judd collected more than 13,000 books, many of which are now housed in a curated library in Marfa, Texas, the town Judd made his home from 1979 until his death in 1994. Others, in their 20s, are finishing up first albums, first novels, first films, or first installations while working three jobs and wearing fashion-blog-worthy vintage ensembles. But the lack of a hospital weeds out retirees. In the 1970s, New York minimalist Donald Judd discovered Marfa’s enchanting terrain beneath a large cerulean sky. His artistic style soon moved away from illusory media and embraced constru… hide caption. The Food Shark, a silver-and-orange truck with a constantly changing menu—Veracruz-style shrimp, pork banh mi, brisket braised in Guinness—parks most afternoons under a massive corrugated-steel canopy in the middle of town known as “the Shade Structure.” It was built and opened to the public by Tim Crowley, the Houston lawyer, and acts as a gathering place for an absurdly well-educated group of 30- to 80-year-olds who have chosen to build furniture, restore adobes, make prints, light concerts, design clothing, start a Montessori school, D.J. One sixth-grader we know, who was born and raised in Marfa but whose parents come from the East Coast, was teased in school: “Are you a Chinati? The Marfa Book Co. is run by poet Tim Johnson, who doesn't think Judd would approve of Marfa's emergence as a chic art world destination. But then you go, 'Yeah, but we'd have to live in that town.' All the buildings, which were renovated to Judd’s exacting specifications, are used to some degree as exhibition spaces for his own work and original work by artists he admired: Rembrandt, Richard Long, Yayoi Kusama, and Frank Stella, among others. Johnson runs Marfa's bookstore, with an unsurprising emphasis on art books, art theory and poetry journals. In the years since, Marfa has emerged as a hot spot for art tourism. Just in the past three years, The New York Times has run almost half a dozen features about Marfa — one solely on its handful of restaurants, including the inevitable food truck. Nearly every storefront on Highland Avenue leading up to the courthouse was empty, save the ones installed with artwork by Judd. They sit in perfect quiet rows, glowing or seemingly translucent, depending on the light. Ballroom Marfa. Marfa became a railroad water stop in 1883. Sean Wilsey and Daphne Beal channel the mix of tumbleweeds, talent, and iconoclasm that is key to Marfa’s mystique. explains Bosworth. “Nothing gets prosecuted here but drugs.”. But he seemed a little offended when asked how marketing has changed. In classic artist-as-gentrifier style, proprietary feelings can be most pronounced in the recently arrived. On the night of the pool game, Wool teamed up with Tavahn Ghazi—a perhaps too handsome (though not the town’s handsomest) young musician who moved to Marfa from the Bay Area to complete an album in the same studio building where Grizzly Bear had just recorded. The army pulled out in 1946, and this, combined with a severe drought, “jerked the rug out from under the economy,” according to Cecilia Thompson, the county’s nonagenarian historian. Brian Santa Maria/iStockphoto.com He left New York to escape the “glib and harsh” art scene, but because of his singular vision here, Judd laid the groundwork for present-day Marfa, which one resident described as an “East Coast Utopia” and another as an “art cruise ship where you just hope the last stop is a Betty Ford Center.” Take your pick again. “That’s where all the stuff is going on. What makes it unique? Lowe told us, “By the end it felt like the whole town had contributed in one way or another.”. In 2011 they featured 70s and early-80s No Wave films alongside banned and sexually explicit work by Clark. A nod is considered excessive. Elrod said, “These kids think it’s all a wonderland of fame and fortune and they’re just going to wait to be discovered. ", This summer, NPR's Destination Art series is going off the beaten path to visit small to midsize North American cities that have cultivated lively arts scenes. “I come to Marfa to play,” he told us. The Marfa renaissance started with Chinati, Judd’s public face and in many ways his unfinished work. If this all has an element of performance to it, perhaps it is due to the fact that beautiful and talented Marfans operate under the impression that they are about to become famous. In Presidio County, when you greet anyone you pass on the road, the social code is to lift two fingers ever so slightly from the steering wheel. And then there is the land. And while the view stretched out 60 or 70 miles (tall yellow grass and gently sloping mountains), Irwin’s focus was on a former army hospital less than a mile away. "He knew that people would come see it, but he did not want that to be a large part of the economy, because he thought, socially, that would have a negative impact.". (The artist’s daughter, Rainer Judd, encouragingly, told us she’d like to see “more cooking” in the artist’s shrine-like private spaces.) Of the near-ghost-town feeling, the painter Jeff Elrod, who arrived as an artist-in-residence at Chinati in 1998, said, “Anybody of interest who was in town in the nineties you definitely ended up sitting around a table with them eating dinner every weekend [at Chinati] … me—some ne’er-do-well artist—Yve-Alain Bois or Rudi Fuchs or Tommy Lee Jones. Still.”. "You just come out here and you feel like, I want to make something; I want to do something!" Red Tecate cans mingled with cans of spray paint. He was trying to figure out what to buy.”. The Chinati Foundation is located on 340 acres of land on the site of former Fort D.A. The critic Michael Kimmelman titled his review of the Flavin piece “The Last Great Art of the 20th Century.” Money followed. In the 1970s, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, Texas, where he created giant works of art that bask beneath vast desert skies. She wasn't lured to Marfa by the cool factor, or Judd's massive concrete blocks. While the arts economy has created jobs, they tend to be dishwashing or landscaping gigs for local, mostly Latino and low-income Marfans. hide caption. Donald C. Judd, a leader of the Minimal Art movement (a term that he despised), moved to Marfa and began buying up land—a 45,000-acre ranch overlooking the Rio Grande and the abandoned Fort Russell’s artillery sheds, barracks, gymnasium, hangars, and other buildings. All that was part of Judd’s realm while he was alive became more markedly divided after he died. That has changed. His friend began pistoning on the barstool, feigning intimacy with a leper. Neda Ulaby/NPR But it was cold there too. We tried to imagine the white-bearded, heavyset, more than occasionally kilt-wearing Judd sitting on the sidewalk like a panhandler. Vanity Fair may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. 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