Eiseley and Emily in Marfa

Art history majors Eiseley and Emily are traveling to West Texas in October to the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum, in Marfa. They are two of 12 SMU students working as guides at the Judd Foundation Open House, a weekend of art, music and talks that attracts an international audience of 2,000 people and one of the most exciting contemporary art events of the year.

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Marfa lights

An update from Eiseley:

After settling into our plush accommodations (the volunteers pulled the sleeping bag maneuver in an auditorium hall), we stopped by a reception for artists Kiki Smith and Carl Fudge at the Eugene Binder gallery. For our first people-watching opportunity, this one was immaculate. It seemed as though the Chelsea district of New York City had instantaneously transported to Marfa, Texas. The fashion choices were chic and edgy. The crowd was big city for sure. Only in Marfa, I suppose.

Our first day of active participation started bright and early on Saturday. We ventured out to the compound itself. We met under a large, aluminum-roofed structure to receive an informal orientation and get our first dose of mediocre rations. I hate to criticize, as the Chinati and Judd foundation organizers and employees were nothing but kind and accommodating – but the food served at the volunteer functions was rather bland and lacked in much nutritional value.

Nonetheless, the SMU group was assigned the Chamberlin Building station, as well as the Locker. The Chamberlin building was once the Marfa wool and mohair building. It now houses Chamberlin’s large, welded steel pieces as well as a superb interactive installation titled Barge Marfa (1983). This is a large collection of foam pieces under a canvas covering. Essentially, it resembles a giant couch or chaise longue, perhaps. While relaxing atop this mountain of plush wonderment, visitors may take in the unusual video entertainment: Chamberlin’s film The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez. The Locker is a gallery house in a converted and refurbished meat locker. Currently, it is home to the work of a Marfa artist-in-residence, Michael Krumenacker.

Judd’s work and home
We split our party of 11 into two groups and swapped shifts so that one group could take the morning on Saturday and the afternoon on Sunday and vice versa for the others. Our arrangement worked out well and gave the non-workers time to look at the collection, the works on the Chinati grounds and the galleries in town. In the Chinati complex, there are two large warehouse structures that hold Judd’s 100 untitled works in aluminum (1982-1986). This installation is quite a spectacle, as the monochrome aluminum boxes seem to extend indefinitely in these spaces. Judd’s Fifteen untitled works in concrete (1980-1984) are situated along an unofficial-looking path out in the fields past the fort constructions. These pieces encourage transit and exploration, as it is literally a hike to view the group. The adjacent backdrop here is the untouched fields of rural Marfa. I found it to be an ideal contrast for large blocks of a typically industrial medium.

Judd’s home, the Block, is another spectacular space. The house and immediate grounds are surrounded by a tall adobe and cement wall. The entrance is placed facing away from Highway 90, a busy exchange. Thus, even though the Block is situated on a heavily trafficked area, it still has an aura of quietude. The galleries inside include aluminum wall pieces and enamel constructions, among others. The ground in the front plaza is covered in rough gravel and emits a Palm Springs vibe. The house itself is, of course, stark white. While sitting on the edge of an above-ground cement pool, I decided that I could live in the Block without complaint.

Sonic Youth rocks
Although we did not have the opportunity to attend the artist talks (the first was led by David Adjaye, Trevor Smith and Andrea Zitttell while the second was David Rabinowitch and Kenneth Baker), we did catch the evening performance of Sonic Youth. The venue: Thunderbird Hotel, a small venue holding the capacity of only a few hundred people. The space was intimate, the acoustics were decent, and the band seriously rocked the joint. Thurston Moore and his wife, Kim, led a killer set, with two (or was it three?) encores. I’ve never seen the band live (another first), and now I have nothing but praising reviews.

I hear that a few crazy after-parties raged until the early hours of the morning, but all that standing and observing throughout the day just did me in. I knew that the two-hour standing shift and eight-hour drive home on Sunday would simply require a decent amount of sleep.

I think that Sunday was a slow day for most of the Open House participants, as few visited us in the Chamberlin building. As soon as our shift ended at noon, we hit the ground running – straight toward Dallas. It was difficult for me to depart from this metropolitan-spirited, artistic desert oasis. Although I cannot see myself voluntarily making the drive anytime soon, I did pick up information on their internship program. I did see the Marfa lights after all, and I realize that extraordinary things are possible in the aesthetic haven that is Marfa.

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