Why Marfa, Texas is an Unmissable Contemporary Art Destination

August 10, 2019

Perched on the high plains of the Chihuahua desert, Marfa, Texas is the most surprising destination for contemporary art in America. Established in 1883, the town of Marfa first served as a water stop and headquarters for the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio railway. Today, only about 2,000 residents call this dusty corner of West Texas home.

Marfa, Texas as an art destination was first put on a map by pioneering minimalist artist Donald Judd. In 1970, Judd left New York City for this dusty dot of a town, wanting to escape the art scene he claimed to disdain. Captivated by its enchanting terrain beneath a large cerulean sky, which seemed like an antidote for the crowded and hectic life in NYC, the artist found this town a perfect spot to complete his plans for creating a permanent installation of his work. In 1985, he recalled:

I chose the town of Marfa because it was the best looking and most practical, and so I rented a small house.

Judd began purchasing land and several buildings for art installations and founded a museum and a center for residencies and research, forever solidifying Marfa as a global art community.

Today, artists of all ages, origins, movements, and media have been flocking to the area. As you walk through town, you’ll encounter numerous art galleries inviting you in to discover local, national and international talent, working in diverse mediums from textiles, paintings, photographs, performance pieces, mixed media, sound and light. Always full of surprises, these spaces dare the visitors to think big, paying homage to the unflagging allure of traditional Western art and mythology.

Here's what you need to see in Marfa, Texas - your next contemporary art destination.

Featured image: Marfa Prada, by Nicolas Henderson via flickr.

Ballroom Marfa

Founded in 2003 by Virginia Lebermann and Fairfax Dorn, Ballroom Marfa is a non-profit organization and a dynamic, contemporary cultural arts space where varied perspectives and issues are explored through visual arts, film, music, and performance.

Housed in a converted dancehall that dates to 1927, this cultural space is dedicated to serving international, national, regional, and local arts communities and supporting the work of both emerging and recognized artists, but also supporting projects that have a significant cultural impact but would be impossible to realize in a traditional gallery or museum setting.

Until September 2019, the visitors will have an opportunity to see Candelilla, Coatlicue, and the Breathing Machine, the exhibition bringing together newly commissioned and existing works by Beatriz Cortez, Candice Lin, and Fernando Palma Rodríguez. Their installations and objects together examine the animate qualities of land, human and non-human migrations and cross-pollinations, and the simultaneous existence of past, present, and future.

Featured image: Ballroom Marfa, by Cody Austin via flickr.

Marfa Prada

Constructed by artists Elmgreen & Dragset in 2005, Prada Marfa is a site-specific, permanent land art project modeled after a Prada boutique. While it includes luxury goods from the fall 2005 collection donated by Prada, which costs a total of $80,000, it doesn't function as a place of commerce and its doors cannot even open. It was co-produced by Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa and Prada gave permission to use their logo, due to the founder Miuccia Prada’s personal interest in contemporary art.

Built of a biodegradable adobe-like substance, the building is meant to slowly melt back into the Earth, serving as a surrealist commentary on Western materialism. Positioned within a contemporary understanding of site-specific art, but also drawing strongly on pop art and land art, Prada Marfa is a living sculpture, an installation that has taken on a life of its own.

Featured image: Marfa Prada, by Nan Palmero via flickr.

The Chinati Foundation

A contemporary art museum located at the site of the former Fort D.A. Russell military base in Marfa, Texas, The Chinati Foundation was created by Donald Judd, who transformed many of its abandoned buildings with the vision of creating permanent installations of his own work and that of John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin.

The space opened its doors as a museum in 1986, growing into an important international art destination. Today, the town museum houses work by Judd, Chamberlain, Flavin and other twentieth-century minimalist artists such as Carl Andre, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Claes Oldenburg & Coosje Van Bruggen, among others. Be sure to take your time with 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, one hundred metal boxes with the same outer dimensions but slightly different interiors which Judd installed in two former artillery sheds he adapted specifically for the pieces.

Chinati hosts public programs throughout the year including lectures, performances, exhibition openings, and other special events. Until the end of 2019, the audience has an opportunity to see a new wall painting by Bridget Riley, created for the Chinati Foundation’s special exhibition building. Her largest work to date, it spans six of the eight walls of the building and revisits her “Egyptian palette.”

Featured image: The Chinati Foundation, Donald Judd, 15 untitled works in concrete, 1980-1984.

The Judd Foundation

The Judd Foundation was established upon the artist's death in order to maintain and preserves his permanently installed living and working spaces, libraries, and archives. In order to promote a wider understanding of Judd’s artistic legacy, the Foundation provides access to these spaces and resources and develops scholarly and educational programs.

Through guided visits of Judd’s formerly private living and working spaces, the visitors can directly engage with his art and vision. The visitors can see La Mansana de Chinati, Judd’s residence and studio in Marfa, informally known as The Block, which was the site of some of the artist’s first big architectural projects, as well as the Studios, comprised of a selection of Juddʼs downtown spaces Architecture Studio, Art Studio, Cobb House and Whyte Building, where the visitors can see furniture by Judd, his early paintings from the 1950s and 1960s, an extensive collection of modernist and period furniture, and works by other prominent twentieth-century artists and designers.

Featured image: The Judd Foundation via juddfoundation.org

Marfa Book Company

A bookstore, publisher, film, music and performance space, Marfa Book Company has existed for almost twenty years, being at the center of our town's changes during that time. Located in the Hotel Saint George lobby, it offers a unique selection of books, art, homeware, clothing and accessories, and apothecary products, while hosting readings, performances, and exhibitions by renowned writers, musicians, and artists. Head there and you'll find glossy art tomes and must-reads by local heroes such as poet Eileen Miles.

Marfa Book Company is also the force behind Agave Festival Marfa, an annual festival launched in 2017 which celebrates the agave and its influence on culture through food, film, music and scientific programs, treating it as the indicator species for a region that is binational, multilingual, and deeply informed by indigenous history. The festival seeks to bring communities together through outstanding free and affordable programs including talks by preeminent historians, botanists, artists, anthropologists and archaeologists, films, exhibitions, and tastings with agave spirit producers as well as delicious dining experiences.

Featured image: Marfa Book Company via marfasaintgeorge.com

The Ayn Foundation

Marfa is full of curious things, and the Ayn Foundation is one of the most curious. Founded in 1993 with the formation of the Arnulf Rainer Museum in New York City, it is dedicated to comprehensive, large-scale projects by major international artists for presentation to the public.

The Foundation's venue in Marfa is located in the old Brite Building, with windows of the two storefronts covered with white screens. There, the visitors can see selections from Andy Warhol's largest and most comprehensive series, The Last Supper and Maria ZerresSeptember Eleven. Commissioned in 1984 by gallerist Alexandre Iolas, The Last Supper is comprised of more than 100 paintings and works on paper based on Leonardo Da Vinci's great masterpiece at the rectory of the Santa Maria Stella Grazie in Milano. On the other hand, Zerres' monumental elegy is comprised of 18 paintings completed between November 2001 and February 2002 in the wake of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in New York City where the German artist has lived and worked for many years.

Featured image: Ayn Foundation via aynfoundation.com.

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