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, Texas: A Weekend of Firsts

An update from Eiseley:

I’d never ventured into West Texas before our road trip to Marfa this weekend. Therefore, I’d never before laid my eyes upon a real, working drilling rig. I took a picture of the first few we drove past. I was awestruck.

You see, West Texas embodies the stereotypical setting that I (among many non-Texan natives) envisioned for the entire state before attending SMU. Prior to visiting Dallas, I projected that many of my college nights and weekends here would be spent at places called the Cowboy Saloon or sitting front row at the rodeo. I never considered that places like Ghost Bar or Candleroom would even exist in Dallas.

In West Texas, however, my Texas visions were finally realized. Once we reached Marfa, I witnessed a rare merger of rural town life and metropolitan cultural attributes. It was another first.

Marfa, Texas: population approximately 2,000 residents. I was told that this figure roughly doubles during the annual Chinati Foundation Open House weekend. Perhaps that’s an overestimate, but it surely seemed like the open house events included a representative from every corner of the globe. We met art aficionados from New York, Germany, Nebraska, San Francisco, Vancouver and Brazil. The small town (it has a historic courthouse, a US Postal Office and defined boundaries) is what one may refer to as an “artistic community.”

I can only imagine what Marfa looked like before Donald Judd’s arrival there in the 1970s. Judd purchased the decommissioned Fort D.A. Russell (with the assistance of the Dia Art Foundation), and transformed the landmark into permanent collection spaces. Here, Judd wished to connect art, architecture and the surrounding landscape.

These gallery spaces range in size from small, intimate converted homes to monumental warehouses. Only a few artists have the privilege of displaying work in this unique viewing environment. They include: Judd himself, Dan Flavin, John Chamberlin, Carl Andre, Inglfur Arnarsson, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, David Rabinowitch, and John Wesley. Although the compound of the converted fort is located beyond the town’s main drag, it has obviously posed some influence on the community as a whole.

In our first drive-through of Marfa proper on Friday evening, I noticed the disproportionate number of privately owned galleries compared to other business enterprises lining the streets. In addition, five medium-to-large building spaces in town are owned and operated by the Judd and Chinati Foundations. These exhibition and permanent collection spaces include: the John Chamberlin building, La Mansana de Chinati (the Bock- Judd’s former residence), the Cobb House and Whyte Building, and the Judd Foundation office (which includes an exhibition space). Each year the Chinati Foundation also supports a number of Artists-in-Residence to develop work on the Marfa grounds. Therefore, a space is dedicated to the work of these artists as well. It’s just next to the Marfa Library.

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