There is nothing quite like a road trip to get the creative juices flowing, particularly if the destination is in striking contrast to the place that you live and work. I think it’s safe to say that the contrast between West Texas and Seattle is glaring. First, there is the topography. Seattle and the Pacific Northwest are verdant, moist and mountainous with phenomenal water views from the sound to the lakes to the Pacific. West Texas is flat, punctuated by small mountain ranges, arid and remote. Seattle is a tech industry juggernaut; West Texas has oil, lots of it. Politically: Polar opposites. Seattle drives a Prius; West Texas, a pick-up truck.
The town of Marfa stands as something of an anomaly in the wind swept high desert of West Texas. With a population of about 2,000, it is a mix of cowboys and culture where one of the finest permanent collections of minimalist art in the world is housed. Yet even before the artists discovered Marfa, Marfa had its brush with Hollywood as the location for the 1956 movie, “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, and Dennis Hopper. Later, Ethan and Joel Coen choose Marfa as the location for their 2007 movie, “No Country for Old Men.”
Minimalism doyen Donald Judd (1928 – 1994) moved from New York City to Marfa in the nineteen-seventies fleeing the crowds of the city, searching for space to house and exhibit his sculpture out of the more traditional museum setting. With the help of the DIA Art Foundation he acquired the 340 acre former U.S. Army Fort D.A. Russell and laid the groundwork for amassing an unrivaled collection of minimalist art. Today the collection is under the conservatorship of the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum based upon the ideas of its founder, Donald Judd. The art includes permanent installations by, among others, sculptor John Chamberlain, light-artist Dan Flavin, the Soviet conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov, concrete or shape poetry by Carl Andre and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen’s “Monument to the Last Horse,” a tribute to Louie, the last cavalry horse, laid to rest in 1932 near the spot of the sculpture.
Highlighting the collection is the work of Donald Judd. His outdoor installation, created on site, 15 untitled works in concrete, 1980 –1984, is comprised of groupings of three to six units, each measuring just over 8 x 8 x 16 feet, nine inches thick running a kilometer along the east edge of the property. The most striking work in the collection is Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982 – 1986, a monumental installation of 100 unique aluminum cubes all with same outer dimension, 41 x 51 x 72 inches, each precisely milled, joined and installed.
The cubes were created specifically to fit into the two refurbished former artillery sheds on the property and are a tour de force of minimalist art. As with all of the work on the property, the cubes are lit with only the natural light that spills in through the buildings’ oversized windows, bathing the objects in the intense West Texas light, reflecting the open sky and surrounding landscape and making the cubes visually merge with their environment.
Marfa is a quirky mix of cattle ranchers, artists, long horizons and the open road. There is one traffic light in town (the next closest is 56 miles away), two upscale restaurants, lots of art venues and Prada Marfa. It is a unique setting to view and contemplate art and great way to recharge the battery. Now, back to the studio.