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. Somewhere, just as the platinum-iridium meter guarantees the tape measure, a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place. ~ Donald Judd
Marfa may seem an unlikely place for one of the most important modern art collections in the U.S. outside of Los Angeles and New York. But it was precisely its isolation, clear skies and the vast expanses of land that, at least in the 1970s, were available for sale at extremely affordable prices that allowed Donald Judd to realize his vision for how art should exist.
During the 2012 ARLIS/NA Texas-Mexico Chapter meeting last November, we visited the Chinati Foundation. Our group was lead by Eugene Binder, an art dealer that divides his time between Marfa and New York City, just like Donald Judd did for over two decades. Eugene began by talking to us about the history of the area. He provided plenty of time for contemplation interspersed with a wealth of facts and insisted on limiting anything that could be construed as his personal interpretation but his many insightful comments were well received by all of us.
The first clue to the history of the site now occupied by the Chinati Foundation comes from its address: 1 Cavalry Row. The former Fort D.A. Russell began as a base for cavalry in 1911 was originally founded to defend the U.S. border with Mexico. As the needs for the military changed, so did the activity at the base where horses were eventually replaced by motorized vehicles and airplanes. During WWII German prisoners of war were housed in two artillery sheds now occupied by 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982-1986.
In 1979, Donald Judd began renovating and adapting various building at the fort in order to accommodate large-scale art installations. The project was initially supported financially by the Dia Art Foundation but by 1986, when the Chinati Foundation first opened to the public, it had became an independent non-profit institution. Judd’s original plan was to have works by himself, as well as John Chamberlain, and Dan Flavin but over the years the works by another 12 artists were added: Carl Andre, Ingolfur Arnarrson, Roni Horn, Richard Long, Ilya Kabakov, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, David Rabinowitch, and John Wesley. Descriptions of these works can be found on the Foundation’s collection webpage.
For my part, I will just focus on some of my impressions of two pieces; Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982-1986 and Dan Flavin’s untitled (Marfa project), 1996.
Walking amongst Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum many ideas and images come to mind. There is the sheer scale of the work, the magic of the light coming in and the subtle differences between each box, the way the whole shed, its square windows with square mullions are not just the container for the work; they are part of it. The sun warms up the space and also brings warm tints to the normal cold looking aluminum. The simple and stark grid so prevalent in Judd’s work seems to be infused with other meaning in this piece because of this space’s earlier occupants, cavalry and infantry troops and later German prisoners of war.
Experiencing Dan Flavin’s untitled (Marfa project) is a cumulative process. Spread over 6 u-shaped barracks, seeing this piece in its totality requires time. Both vision and sense of space are affected and walking in and out becomes a meditative activity. It is hard to capture the colours of the fluorescent lights in a photograph but even if the colours were accurate, the sensation of walking through the space while getting closer or further from the lights is a true phenomenological experience. It transforms the landscape seen outside, away from the fluorescent lights on the opposite end of the room. The landscape becomes sharper and its colours more dramatic.
I don’t think I could grow tired of visiting the Chinati Foundation. The experience of walking amongst and/or through these works of art is hard to compare with any other I have had. The remoteness of Marfa and dramatic wind swept landscape only add to the art.
Submitted by Martha González Palacios