Marfa, TX

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Marfa’s much easier to talk about on the phone with your mother than to write about on the internet. There’s so much origin-story boilerplate to establish and then when you’re just past that requirement there’s another heavy layer of thinking to do about it before you’re set free to get into your own personal tourism experience. Feels like everyone’s a tourist here. (Except the Mexicans.)

Wouldn’t it be the end-goal of any modern art megalomaniac to create his own damn city? Donald Judd got his wish by simply dreaming that hard about it, that precisely and persuasively. It was once a military barracks for elite ranks of Calvary officers during World War 2. They played polo here, and learned languages, and held dinner banquets for the locals. It was nearly abandoned when Judd arrived and said, “let there be installations.”

And from those art installations have flowered now a small town for creative whites. There is no rational or industrial core purpose to account for the population density and NPR station there, just the art and the other people, making it, in my mind, a genuinely post-modern happening. I completely understand why our mutual friends have contemplated centering utopia there – it’s all raw material, strictly culture, and with scant other theories to disrupt one’s pure and personal view of the future. Feels like you can set up shop by providing any fill in the blank local commodity – say, a food truck, or a skate shop (open territory, far as I know) – and the city might feed you. There are still no more than like 3,000 permanent residents. Actually, who knows how many of them are permanent. Those might be permanent installations, but I can’t say that anything else about Marfa feels permanent.

The first night we rolled into town we took the first bar signage sighting up on its offer and inside I immediately found a friend of mine seated near the door. I lived with David Branch for a few months while he was finishing an internship for his Architecture program at UT. He’s from Virginia, wicked smart and willing to prove it over beers on front porches into the wee hours. I’d say we bonded but I haven’t been in touch for years. Forgot he’s been set up in Marfa, building houses. He was forced to watch me fall upon a plate of road snacks that Margo brought out from the car in lieu of dinner (she’s the BEST). It was really very lucky to find him, he set up our itinerary for the one full day we budgeted for our time in Marfa. Chinati of course, but also we should check out the view from the top floor of the courthouse. Great call, we climbed up while waiting for the morning Chinati tour to begin and found a lovely view of the city.

I wasn’t properly prepared for the immensity of the Chinati tour. We did the abbreviated version, primarily Judd’s aluminum pieces and then Flavin’s rooms. Mother of pearl, man, what an immense wonder of humanity. Both of ’em. We were both moved.

Our guide explained that Flavin’s piece wasn’t installed until after Judd’s death, due to a series of disagreements during their collaboration that ended their friendship. Donald Judd named his daughter after this man then had an art-argument with him and decided to never speak to him again. Or Flavin did, whatever. It was poignant to have view on the better part of these guys’ souls while contemplating what petty, arrogant assholes they must have been. Can we please let a woman create the next post-modern Texan art town? They’ve got next. Actually apparently Judd’s wife persuaded Flavin to come back and finish the piece after Judd was dead, and then after that was done the reviews and money flowed through, so I suppose a woman created Marfa as much as he did.

Ok, when you go, and you should, DO have a Marfa Burrito burrito, DO consider a tent space at El Cosmico, DO climb the courthouse, DO hit Tim’s incredible bookstore, and DO see the Marfa lights.

Guys. WHAT THE FUCK ARE THE MARFA LIGHTS?! And don’t give me that jazz about reflected car headlights. Don’t.


Posted: June 28, 2012

Author: marcus

Category: Locations, Marfa, Texas


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