Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Marfa, Texas"

Marfa, Texas, 2011.
After years of threats, I have finally made the artist's pilgrimage to Marfa,  the tiny town in far West Texas where a few artists with a powerful creative vision made their own utopia of sorts by reclaiming and reinventing a nearly abandoned spot on the map in the middle of the high desert.

Prada, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
I was already half-way there, being in my home town of Splendora, Texas, only to realize it was still an exhausting 11 hour drive, without ever leaving Texas soil.  A shortcut was determined, flying Houston to El Paso, where still it is a nearly 3 hour drive.

Luckily, there is a road side attraction along the way, a prize for not letting the monotony of the landscape hypnotize the driver. As one glides silently through the sand and sun, a mirage appears. For the intrepid New Yorker and professional window dresser it might be hard to believe, but there on the outskirts of Valentine, Texas, next to nothing, is Prada Marfa. Created by artists Elmgreen & Dragset, along with a team of architects and art foundations, is the permanent installation of a storefront, complete with signage, shoes, and handbags. Installed in 2005, it has became it's own myth and legend, appearing everywhere from photographs to Gossip Girl, and yet there are those that still believe it to be a hoax.

Well, it's not, it's there, it's art.

Upon entering the town of Marfa, 20 or so minutes later, one is at first struck by the elegance of the architecture, cool gray cement coated adobe, xeroscaped yards, and an Americana that was once popular in small towns everywhere. The difference here is the artistic sensibility. It's everywhere. Many of the local businesses have also adopted the look, including The Thunderbird Hotel, where I thought I was staying.
Thunderbird Hotel, Marfa, Texas.
The Thunderbird Hotel is a project from the hotelier Liz Lambert, who has the beautiful San Jose in Austin as well as other properties. Rumor has it that Liz is no longer the proprietor, having opened El Cosmico trailer park up the road, which happens to be hosting the big music festival the weekend I am there, however Liz's distinctive style  permeates not only the Thunderbird, but has spread to other parts of town. Here I meet my friend and host Adrina Miller, who has planned a full itinerary for my weekend visit, but before I can get too comfortable, she shows me my transportation for the festivities, a bike, and points me up the hill to where I'll be staying, an office/gallery just off San Antonio Street.

My Accommodations in Marfa, Texas.
I found it an appropriate abode, the artist installed in the gallery, complete with grand piano and plate glass window. Just as I was settling in, it was time to get out and about, as the festivities were already underway.
Gail Chovan for Blackmail, Marfa, 2011.
First stop was to make an appearance at the trunk show for the talented Gail Chovan for Blackmail. In a large screened in porch, she was showing her latest collection, '14',  hand-painted frocks, adding a splash of vivid blue to her signature black.

The champagne started flowing then, and seemed to continue for the rest of the weekend, including over dinner at the delicious Miniature Rooster, from acclaimed chef Rocky Barnette, located just across the street from my new address.

Saturday morning, we mounted our bikes, and set out to see the rest of the area by the light of day. Remarkable in Marfa, is how Donald Judd deftly took over major portions of the town. The artist first visited Marfa while stationed at a nearby military base, and later, when he had acheived art world success in NYC, he returned with a few choice friends and began purchasing buildings.

Judd Property, Marfa, Texas, 2011.

A bank becomes a gallery, a shed becomes an architecture office, a state building becomes arts administration, and a super market becomes a studio.

Judd Property, Marfa, Texas, 2011.

But Donald Judd's most impressive acquisition is the military base on the edge of town, which, along with some help from the Dia Foundation, transformed the abandoned base into an unbelievable testament to contemporary art.

The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.

Donald Judd founded the Chinati Foundation with help from the Dia Arts Foundation of New York, on 340 acres of the former Fort Russell. The transformation began in 1979, and officially opened in 1986, marking its 25th anniversary this year. (2011.)

Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 The concept of the foundation is to show the work of a small group of contemporary artists, with an attempt for the art to both compliment and accentuate the surrounding nature. Above, Judd's concrete  pieces are scattered about a field, forming a 1 kilometer long installation, with cows grazing along side it.
Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 Within the former industrial structures, Judd's 100 aluminum boxes perform a dazzling interplay with the West Texas sunlight.
Dan Flavin, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 Speaking of light, the light artist Dan Flavin is also represented here. In 6 U-shaped former army barracks, Flavin has installed his neon tubes, with jarring subtlety, inviting both exploration and interaction.
Dan Flavin, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 The interplay of light illuminates the long corridors of the barracks, bouncing off white walls and polished concrete floors.
Claes Oldenburg & Coosje Van Bruggen, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 There are a select few other artists represented at the Chinati, including Clase Oldenburg, who created an over-sized horseshoe, paying tribute to a military horse, which was shot on the spot in a military ceremony. The inspiration for the piece, an actual horseshoe found on the grounds, years after the event.
John Chamberlain, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas 2011.
 Back in town, next to the train tracks, the Chinati also has a huge space dedicated to the work of John Chamberlain. His crumpled car sculptures, perfectly embody both American and the rusted metallic sentiment of high desert.
John Chamberlain, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas 2011.

The Chinati Foundation has 25 of the Chamberlain pieces, each vaguely nostalgic  work gently provokes with a promise of danger, force, and strength.

Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 Next stop is the Judd Foundation, which includes the residence and studios of Donald Judd. Here his obsession with right angles and the square is prevalent in everything from the swimming pool and outdoor furnishings...
Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
...to his numerous works on display in various galleries, from the shape of the windows and buildings themselves....
Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 ....to the fire pit and walls of the grounds, from the organized engineering of his library.....
Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
.....to the furniture he designed and built for the Foundation.

But the beauty in Marfa is that artists continue to keep the spirit of creativity alive here, beyond Judd and his contemporaries. Homes are beautiful restored and decorated, gas stations are converted into galleries, even the hip restaurants (a choice few) and boutiques have the unmistakable influence of art.

"Imaginary Funerals", Lorna Leedy, Fancy Pony Land, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
One such boutique/gallery is Fancy Pony Land, where I even discovered a piece of art about me. Artist and designer Lorna Leedy, has created a series of "Imaginary Funerals" with a guest list chosen from a questionnaire sent to each contributing artist. I quickly purchased the self-referential piece, being not only an artist, muse, and model, but also a patron. Lorna has just completed a book on the series which is available through her website.
Lorna Leedy, Fancy Pony Land, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
 Lorna also has a fascination with the penny, and through utilizing the proximity of the train track, she smashes the coins into copper discs which she incorporates into jewelry and other decorative uses. (Growing up near the railroad in Splendora, putting coins on the track was a favorite summer hobby of my own, so the work she creates has a sentimentality that I can't deny.) Above, Leedy has used the penny as a bathroom floor covering in one of many applications
Adrinadrina, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
Two doors down, artist (and my host) Adrina Miller, aka Adrinadrina, was cleaning out her studio space, and along with neighbors we all enjoyed a cold Shiner Bock beer and allowed the heat of the day to subside.

Alton Dulaney, Marfa, Texas, 2011.
Seemingly around every corner and in every reclaimed space of Marfa art continues to thrive. What was once a dry and barren near-ghost-town, has become a fertile oasis for creativity.

For more info on Prada Marfa, visit:

For the Thunderbird Hotel visit:

For Gail Chovan for Blackmail:

For the Miniature Rooster and Rocky Barnette:

For the Chinati Foundation see:

For the Judd Foundation:

For Lorna Leedy and Fancy Pony Land:

For Adrinadrina check out:

And for me, well sign up to follow this blog, be my friend on Facebook, check out my website, You-Tube my name, write me a letter, or otherwise, just stay tuned for more on the arts in all the many shapes and forms.