Marvelous, Minimalist Marfa!

After a twenty-hour day at Big Bend, we were ready for more education, but this time in Marfa, Texas, home of mysterious lights and much minimalist art and hipster vibes.

These adventures began with the Chinati Foundation–a non-profit focused on the minimalist art of Donald Judd and his contemporaries.  He purchased a former military base–Fort Russell–and turned it into a major art installation.

Our tour–led by a somewhat bored tour guide–began with Judd’s works.  These works were housed in two old artillery sheds and consisted of 100 untitled pieces made of aluminum.  Each cube had the same outer dimensions, but each had a different interior configuration.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Minimalist Art, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

From some angles with the right light, some of the pieces looked as though they were made from glass.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Minimalist Art, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

You don’t have to a fan of minimalist art to be be intrigued by Judd’s art, but you do need an open mind.  It’s almost impossible to examine the 100 pieces without asking, “But is it art?”

Actually, it is art, and the installation goes a long way to reinforcing Judd’s purpose in founding Chinati.  He believed that having Museum curators slice his art into smaller pieces (or subdividing it) and then placing it in a corner of a museum gallery next to pieces by artists of their choosing didn’t appropriately convey the artist’s intent.  So…he bought 340 acres, on which he could install his pieces in the format and configuration of his choosing.  They definitely had an impact different than what have been experienced by seeing a single aluminum piece next to, say, a work by George Segal in a large museum.

The site was also ideal for the works of Dan Flavin, commissioned specifically for Chinati.  Using six old barracks buildings, Flavin created art from flourescent bulbs of varying colors which, when seen from various perspectives, blend into unique color combinations.  When entering the north barrack wing, for example, we saw this:

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

From the south barrack’s wing, however, we saw this:

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

What we also saw a lot of was this…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

…us posing in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes eerie, always intriguing art works by Flavin.

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As a group, the Flavin pieces were the most popular, although individuals in our group have a soft spot for the pop art of Claes Oldenburg (not a minimalist!)…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Claes Oldenburg

…which was created to honor Louie, the last surviving horse of the fort’s cavalry unit.  This art work also served as a memorial, in that replaced the deteriorated memorial previously on site for Louie.

We also had warm feelings for Chinati’s most recent installation, a large work by Robert Irwin.  His installation was actually an entire building, horseshoe shaped, with a courtyard.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

The building’s interior consists of two sides: the left side is dark, with black walls, windows that open at eye level–designed to provide the look of Dutch landscapes–and a black screen that provides compartmentalized interiors.

The building transitions on the horizontal leg of the horseshoe, moving from the “dark side” to the “light side.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa, Chinati, Robert Irwin

This is a supremely interesting effect, providing both visual stimuli and a provocative metaphorical sense of moving from dark to light.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

Indeed, halfway through the building this effect is captured by dark and light doors.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

And from there, visitors enjoy the ‘optimist’s side,” filled with light and interiors of white, making for some happy tourists.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

Our happiness transformed to curiosity as we moved to downtown Marfa, where the “Chamberlain” wing of Chinati is housed.

There are 22 of Chamberlain’s curiosities in this building.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, John Chamberlain

His works are primarily cars that have been compressed and placed…

At the front of the building, there is a large “couch” of sorts, and it was an installation we were allowed to touch and, in fact, sit on!  ALthough comfortable, we didn’t sit on it long, because one of Chamberlain’s movies, “The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez” was playing, and it was supremely strange.

On a more quotidian note, we did find a sand patch that was part of the building’s original structure, and we were able to add our own art.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati, Marfa Texas, LEAP at SHSU

The half-day tour was enthralling.  It was our first experience with minimalist art and provided an eye-opening and even uplifting experience!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas

 

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to news stories, having contributed more than 50 pieces in the past year. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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