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Prior to visual artist Donald Judd moving to Marfa in the 1970s, this small Western Texas was best known as the location for the shooting of the 1956 movie Giant (with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean) and for its “mystery lights,”unexplained lights in the night sky. But through the vision and example of Donald Judd, today Marfa is home to a world-renowned collection of contemporary art, attracting visitors worldwide as well as artists and craftspeople who, like Judd, are inspired by what Marfa has to offer.
Judd wrote, “It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again. Somewhere a portion of contemporary art has to exist as an example of what the art and its context were meant to be.”
2011 Number 2 | < Back to Contents
Creative Reuse: Marfa, Texas
by Elizabeth Stark
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Donald Judd found his ideal place to live, work, and exhibit his art in the wide, open skies and land of Marfa, Texas. Beginning in the 1970s, Judd began purchasing land and buildings in Marfa, turning, for instance, an empty bank into an architecture studio, a former grocery store into an art studio, and the former Fort D.A. Russell, which served as the headquarters for the Big Bend Military District during the Mexican Revolution, into the Chinati Foundation, a site for permanent large-scale art works.
Purchased by Judd in November 1989, this prominent two-story building containing more than 15 rooms, is located in downtown Marfa and was formerly the Marfa Bank. After renovating the building, Judd installed early paintings and drawings on the ground floor and used the upper floor as his architecture studio. It also houses an extensive collection of modernist furniture, and paintings by prominent 20th-century artists and designers are also featured in the building. Judd Foundation replaced broken marble on the façade and renovated the exterior in 2008.
After becoming the town bank, the interior of the building was renovated in the 1970s, complete with dropped tile ceilings and marble floors and walls. With his renovation, Judd returned the interior back to its original state revealing high ceilings, an ornate mezzanine, and a charming mural.
In March 1990, Judd purchased the former Safeway grocery store and converted the facility into a studio. The open area contains long worktables and shelving, which display prototypes and samples for fabrication. These materials and installation make it possible to trace the artist's concept development and work process.
Judd purchased the buildings at La Mansana de Chinati/The Block in 1973 and 1974. Consisting of living and working spaces, the Block is the site of some of his first large architectural projects and installations. Measuring one full city block, the property includes an historic World War I military workshop and the former offices of the U.S. Army's Quarter Master Corps. Judd enclosed the complex with high adobe walls made in part from salvaged 19th-century adobe, creating a private courtyard landscaped with cactus gardens, cottonwood trees, and his designs for outdoor furniture. The two largest buildings in the complex, to the east and to the west, were refurbished by Judd and were installed predominantly with works by Judd from the 1960s and 1970s, as well as his personal collections of art, furniture, artifacts, and his expansive personal library. At the north end of the courtyard, Judd installed a concrete pool and pergola, as well as a year-round garden and greenhouse, which were restored in 2004.
"Aside from Ft. Russell…the Mansana de Chinati/The Block, a city block in town, is the largest and most complete place that I've planned. Originally there were only two large iron and adobe warehouses parallel to each other and a much smaller two-story building on a block open to the main highway on the south and to the railroad tracks and a feed mill on the north. This was a very general arrangement, which determined at most a corresponding rectangular alignment." --Donald Judd
Judd renovated the two-story house to serve as his private residence, with a kitchen area and bedrooms for his daughter Rainer and his son, Flavin. On the east side of the two-story building, in line with his daughter Rainer's room, Judd planted grasses and a row of plum trees in the narrow passage between the house and the perimeter wall. "She wanted a yard," he later wrote. A separate building was built next to the house to serve as a bathhouse. Designed to be the same height as the U-shaped courtyard wall, the bathhouse was built between the house and the East Building. An additional building was built on the opposite side of the courtyard to maintain symmetry with the bathhouse, in keeping with Judd's interest in symmetry in art and architecture.
Judd's library houses 13,000 books spanning a range of subjects as broad as the artist's thinking. Judd's arrangement of the library reflects his sensitivity to geography and understanding of the development of the arts, languages, and sciences across different cultures. Judd deeply valued books for their ability to share knowledge. He read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica as a child. He also considered books as beautiful objects to be treasured. Judd integrated works by Frank Stella and Yayoi Kusama into this space. An adjoining room at the back of the library contains a portion of Judd's archive of periodicals, and leads to a "secret garden" space. In May 2010 Judd Foundation announced the launch of the Donald Judd Library online. This searchable finding aid includes records for all 13,004 volumes in the library. Judd's unique arrangement for the collection as a three-dimensional installation can be explored shelf-by-shelf and book-by-book. Titles cover the following areas: 40 on languages; 3,129 on art history; 1,513 on history; 1,455 on architecture; 484 on philosophy; 313 on science; 164 on anthropology; 70 on mathematics; 58 on music; and 39 on geography. The index is linked to RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network) and allows users to search by Library of Congress date fields. Users can also locate volumes in their local lending libraries. In response to the launch of the Google Arts Projects, the February 1, 2011 issue of the Telegraph, U.K., selected Donald Judd's online library as one of the top five most innovative online cultural archives. To visit go to www.juddfoundation.org.
In 1979 with initial assistance from the Dia Art Foundation in New York, Judd began construction on transforming the former Fort D.A. Russell into the Chinati Foundation. Judd originally designed Chinati as a permanent home for works by himself, John Chamberlain, and Dan Flavin, but over time expanded to also include works by Carl Andre, Ingólfur Arnarsson, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, David Rabinowitch, and John Wesley, as well as temporary exhibitions featuring modern and contemporary art.
Donald Judd, 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982-1986, detail. 41 x 51 x 72 inches. Permanent collection, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. Photo by Douglas Tuck, 2009. Courtesy of the Chinati Foundation. Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Running the length of Chinati Foundation's border are 15 concrete works by Donald Judd. Created between 1980 and 1984, each piece is comprised of between two and six individual units of the same size, formed by 25-inch-thick concrete slabs. In preparation for creating these concrete works, Judd made a series of drawings, exploring the many possibilities for arranging the units. Cast and assembled on-site in Marfa, these works were the first to be installed at the museum.
Donald Judd, 15 untitled works in concrete, 1980-1984, detail. 2.5 x 2.5 x 5 meters. Permanent collection, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. Photo by Douglas Tuck, 2009. Courtesy of the Chinati Foundation. Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Each artist's work is installed in a separate building or buildings on the Chinati Foundation's grounds. For instance, Dan Flavin's large-scale works in colored fluorescent light have a permanent home in six former barracks buildings. Two parallel tilted corridors are constructed at the connecting arms of each U-shaped building. These corridors contain light barriers that are placed either in the center or at the end of each corridor. The barriers consist of eight-foot-long fluorescent light fixtures, occupying the entire height and width of the corridor. The tubes are installed with space between them, allowing a view through the barrier. Each fixture holds two differently colored bulbs shining in opposite directions. The barriers in the six buildings utilize four colors: pink, green, yellow, and blue. The first two buildings use pink and green, the next two yellow and blue, and the last two buildings bring all four colors together. Two windows at the end of each long arm of the U allow daylight to enter the building and permit a view into the vast landscape.
Although not placed within one of the buildings, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's permanent sculpture still has a connection to the fort. Monument to the Last Horse, 1991, is homage to Louie, the last cavalry horse who was laid to rest in 1932 and the former military history of the site.
Founded in 2003 by Virginia Lebermann and Fairfax Dorn, Ballroom Marfa follows Judd's legacy of turning unused buildings into homes for contemporary art. Formerly a dance hall dating back to 1927, Ballroom Marfa provides space for a dynamic and diverse range of visual arts exhibitions, music events, film screenings, dance, and theater performances. As a center for public exploration of contemporary art and culture, Ballroom Marfa is particularly interested in helping artists and curators achieve projects that have significant cultural impact but would be impossible to realize in a traditional gallery or museum setting.
Ballroom Marfa's Visual Arts Program presents two or more significant exhibitions each year that reflect a broad and diverse range of curatorial perspectives and artistic practices. Curated by Ballroom Marfa's Associate Curator Alicia Ritson, In Lieu of Unity (March 26 – September 19, 2010) brought together artists from Mexico whose practices are marked by ongoing explorations of social relations.
With In Lieu of Unity, Ballroom Marfa initiated community dinners as part of its opening weekend events, which also include a public reception in the gallery, a music program, and gallery walkthroughs with the artists and curators. In a community of only 2,000, as many as 250 people attend these dinners, an opportunity for the artists and community members to come together.
Commissioned by Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa, PRADA MARFA is a site-specific, permanent land art project by artists Elmgreen & Dragset located one mile west of Valentine, Texas. Described by the New York Times as looking "as if a tornado had picked up a Prada store and dropped it on a desolate strip of U.S. 90 in west Texas," the structure includes luxury goods from the fall 2005 collection but will never function as a place of commerce and the door cannot be opened.
"Names don't amount to much where I live in West Texas, either in English or Spanish: Goat Mountain, Blue Mountain, Twin Mountain, Cathedral Mountain, Sierra Vieja, Sierra Villista, only named since Pancho Villa, Rio Grande, so that even the name Sierra Chinati is conspicuous. I have a ranch on the north end of the range overlooking the Rio Grande called Ayala de Chinati. This has two small houses, which I've thought a lot about but done little about, since I hate to damage the land around them. Here, everywhere, the destruction of new land is a brutality. Nearby a man bought a nearly untouched ranch three or four years ago, bulldozed roads everywhere so he could shoot deer without walking and last fall died. In another direction a pair cut their land to pieces for no reason at all. Within a real view of the world and the universe this violence would be a sin –- there are no words since there are no ethics that correspond to the present known nature of the world."