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Contemporary Art

Marfa, The Texas Town that Attracts Artists, Collectors and Beyoncé

In a performance of her work Scales last October at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Solange Knowles gave new meaning to the term “site-specific.” Wearing vivid fuchsia garments, the singer and a troupe of musicians and dancers staged a choreographed musical performance (pictured above) outdoors in front of 15 massive sculptures by Donald Judd. Among the most dramatic of his permanent installations in Marfa, Judd’s untitled work, “had such profound influence on the way I view the world,” wrote Knowles at the time. The performcer and her sister, Beyoncé took an Instagram-documented road trip in 2012 that introduced the social media generation to Marfa. More recently, the town received major exposure as the setting of Amazon’s offbeat TV series I Love Dick, in which Kevin Bacon plays an artist-cowboy character modeled on Judd. In the 1970s, Judd escaped the New York art world and found in Marfa’s then-vacant storefronts and abandoned WWII airplane hangars an optimal setting for his expansive practice. The artist’s foundation, established after his death in 1994, maintains several Judd-related sites that draw art-minded travelers, who also make the pilgrimage to visit Chinati (also founded by Judd), as well as the thriving local gallery scenes and film and music festivals. Here, Sotheby’s share our list of Marfa’s cultural essentials, plus tips on how to get to there and where to stay. 

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DONALD JUDD, ARENA FURNITURE (OUTDOOR). PHOTOGRAPH BY DAN HSU .

Judd Foundation 

The foundation comprises multiple buildings in Marfa, including Judd’s studios and residential compound, La Mansana de Chinati, also known as The Block – two airplane hangars and a modest house enclosed within adobe walls. There, the artist merged minimalism with an Old West aesthetic, and the site remains preserved as a holistic design experience. By visiting The Block along with the architecture office, studios, and other downtown spaces nearby, visitors can immerse themselves in Judd’s Marfa through his collections of art, textiles, artifacts, books (13,000 of them), and furniture of his own design as well as pieces by Gustav Stickley, Alvar Aalto, Gerrit Rietveld and Mies van der Rohe. Advance reservations to the Judd Foundation Marfa are required.  

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ROBERT IRWIN, UNTITLED (DAWN TO DUSK). INSTALLATION EXTERIOR, 2016. PERMANENT COLLECTION, THE CHINATI FOUNDATION, MARFA, TEXAS. PHOTOGRAPH BY © PHILIPP SCHOLZ RITTERMANN, COURTESY OF THE CHINATI FOUNDATION. © 2017 ROBERT IRWIN / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK.

Chinati Foundation

Judd created Chinati with the mission of permanently installing monumentally scaled works by in the desert landscape he loved. Initially devoted to Judd, Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain, the collection now includes Robert Irwin, Richard Long, Roni Horn, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, among others. Chinati is an art world draw year round, but particularly in October, when the foundation holds its annual Open House Weekend. After Solange Knowles’s electrifying 2017 performance, expectations for this year’s celebration (5–7 October) are bound to be high. Programing details were yet to be finalized but the benefit dinner is scheduled for Saturday, 6 October. For more information, visit chinati.org.  

Ballroom Marfa 

Occupying a converted 1927 dancehall, the 15-year-old non-profit supports ambitious projects such as Elmgreen & Dragset’s Prada Marfa, a now-emblematic mock Prada storefront that stands permanently in the middle of the desert. Next up is Haroon Mirza’s Stone Circle, a sculpture that will be installed for five years in the grasslands east of town. Ballroom also hosts cultural events such as the annual Marfa Myths music festival (12–15 April), which coincides with Hyperobjects, a group exhibition featuring Tara Donovan, Postcommodity, Ivan Navarro and others. Ballroom Marfa, Hyperobjects, through April 13; Stone Circle, opens 29 April.  

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AYN FOUNDATION EXTERIOR.

Launched by visionary art dealer Heiner Friedrich, this non-profit space shares the local dedication to presenting large-scale works. Two long-term installations are currently on view: part of Andy Warhol’s 1986 Last Supper series, the Pop artist’s wry take on Leonardo di Vinci, and September Eleven, a group of 18 paintings by New York-based German artist Maria Zerres. Go to aynfoundation.com for hours. 

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AN INSTALLATION VIEW OF CECILIA VISSERS EXHIBITION FLATNESS IN SPACE AT INDE/JACOBS GALLERY, MARFA, TEXAS. PHOTOGRAPH BY CASEY DUNN.

Rule and Inde/Jacobs Galleries 

While non-profit art spaces in tend to dominate, the town is home to two commercial galleries. Opened in 2005, Inde/Jacobs focuses on Marfa stalwarts such as of Judd, Flavin and Chamberlain as well as newer takes on Minimalism, such as the flat, anodized aluminum sculptures of Cecilia Vissers (on view through 13 May). Rule also has a location in Denver, and many on its roster of emerging and established artists – including Wilma Fiori and Matthew Larson, both in the current group show – have Colorado ties. Cecilia Vissers: Flatness in Space, Inde/Jacobs, through 13 May. Lightest Gesture, Rule gallery, through 29 June. 

Cinemarfa

Now in its eighth year, Cinemarfa brings rare and difficult-to-find films – particularly those with a visual art component – to West Texas. Around 20 films will be screened at this year’s festival under the theme “Storytelling for Earthly Survival,” which takes its name from a new documentary by Fabrizio Terranova. Also on tap are projects by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, Sky Hopinka, and David Fenster. Cinemarfa, Crowley Theater, 3–6 May. 

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2013 MARFA FILM FESTIVAL. PHOTOGRAPH BY AMINA MUNSTER/GETTY IMAGES.

Marfa Film Festival

Now in its tenth year, the festival reliably draws a large crowd of cinephiles to the high desert for films by up-and-coming directors as well as established names along with edgier classics and music-related projects. Many screenings and performances take place outdoors and under the stars. Marfa Film Festival, various venues, 11–15 July. 

How to Get There

Part of Marfa’s allure is how remote it is – a three-and-a-half-hour drive from El Paso and the nearest commercial airport. Some have likened travel on the long stretch of Highway 90 to a spiritual journey, but on occasions that demand efficiency, flying privately with Sentient Jet means bypassing all inconveniences and landing directly at Marfa Municipal Airport. As Sotheby’s Preferred Aviation Partner in North America, Sentient Jet offers Sotheby’s clients a host of benefits, including exclusive Jet Card promotions featuring complimentary flight time. Visit sentient.com/sothebys for more information.  

Where to Stay

Selected lodging options in Marfa:


Thunderbird Hotel

Hotel Paisano

Hotel Saint George

El Cosmico

Lead Image: Solange Knowles Ferguson performs at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. © 2018 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Alex Marks.

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