Marfa is Judd obsessed, whether they do it on purpose or not, I’m not sure. I’m talking about Donald Judd, of course, the artist who made his home in Marfa in the late 1960s. Judd’s aesthetic is clean and linear – an exploration of form in space and light – and a lot of that is reflected in the town itself.
All font you see in Marfa is sans serif and very boxy. The Get Go (grocery), Marfa City Hall, Marfa Ballroom, Marfa Book Company, Pizza Foundation, and Judd’s foundation itself: Chinati Foundation.
This aesthetic fits in well with an old western town and the simple, adobe buildings with Art Deco details.
Even the Food Shark had giant picnic tables that mimicked the designs we saw at the Block (his home compound). Notice how the table is built into the bench but there is no hole for your legs to go through.
While we were eating at Maiya’s restaurant on our last night I realized that everything in the restaurant had that modern, streamlined, stark feel. Nothing superfluous or extra but completely functional.
Because Judd helped to put Marfa on the map as an art community, every tourist makes the pilgrimage (yes, it was Thanksgiving, but no pun intended) to Chinati. For someone who hasn’t studied minimalist art formally, or even art at all, minimalism can seem really hyped up and obvious. But I would argue that seeing this art at Chinati can give you a critical perspective to appreciating and viewing it. In fact, after having been to Chinati and seeing pieces by Judd and Dan Flavin made specifically for that space, I can’t think of another way of seeing it. Meaning that I think seeing minimalist, 3-D art in a museum might even be blasphemous. Ok, so maybe that’s going a little too far, but there is truly something to be said for seeing three-dimensional art in its natural habitat, in the space it was created for.
My favorite work by Judd is the aluminum boxes in the artillery sheds. He had 100 boxes of milled steel fabricated to his exact specifications from a factory in Connecticut and shipped out to the middle-of-nowhere Texas. Each box has exactly the same dimensions yet no box is alike.
Seeing them all lined up so precisely – so similar – actually makes you start noticing the minute differences between each box. How the light hits it, what colors it emits, boxes that look like glass. It’s in their regimented similarity that you notice the uniqueness of each one. Also, the artillery sheds were fixed up by Judd when he bought the property and he added giant glass windows and a Quonset hut-inspired roof.
I had seen this all last time I was in Marfa, but one of my favorite parts of the trip this time was visiting the Block – Judd’s home and studio(s). He bought an old military office/house in downtown Marfa that had two artillery sheds/airplane hangers and started to make it his own. Judd considered Marfa his main residence for the last two decades of his life. In fact, the Block is exactly how he left it when he died. He went on a trip to Germany and became ill with Lymphoma. He was treated in Germany, and then back in New York where he passed away. When he left Marfa in 1994 he did not know it would be his last time there.
the house and lap pool
Seeing his living quarters really peaked my fascination with Judd as a person. Mainly I kept thinking – wow, he must have been insane! He created a world for himself and submerged himself in that world. The fascinating thing is that he brought his two young children with him to grow up in desolate Marfa. The boy was named Flavin after Judd’s artist friend and the girl was named Rainer after a dancer (their mother was a dancer). How did they fit into Judd’s world and what was their upbringing like? Here they are – then and now. Both pictures are taken in Marfa.
Rainer and Flavin in one of Judd’s studios at the Block
There are no biographies of Judd. Sources around town said that it’s in part because his archives haven’t opened up yet. I can’t wait to read one when it comes out.
He had such a stark and sparse existence but apparently he was a big entertainer. At the Block there were huge tables everywhere and tons of pottery and serving dishes.
I assume he was a big intellectual, as evidenced by his collection of 13,000 books. He broke up each hangar in his compound into three studios/spaces. In the first hangar there were two separate libraries. One post 20th century, and one pre.
the pre-20th century library
Each library was organized in a different manner – alphabetical, chronological, subject-wise, etc. I loved the old library the most because it had another one of those huge tables in it, neatly covered in stacks of books and found objects. He had books on every subject imaginable (including quantum physics) and from every author known to mankind.
The other interesting thing about his studios was that nearly every space had a very plain plywood bed frame and mattress in it. He really embraced the idea of a space to both work and live in.
pergola, gate, and car at The Block
Everything in Judd’s world is precisely created to his specifications. The pergola is 12 feet wide, which mirrors the 12 foot gate and the 12 trees planted in the alley-like “garden” requested by his daughter. 12 was a powerful number for Judd.
He built a wall around his compound that was 9 feet high, which mirrored the height of the hangars, and the wall is made of adobe. He didn’t put the requesite amount of hay in the walls knowing that it would rot a bit, leaving a “relief” effect.
Being shown around his personal space gave me this incredible, intimate insight to his personality (but also left me wanting to know so much more), his art, and his lifestyle, how every single detail was thought out, how maybe he needed all that regimentation and sparseness in order to free his mind to create. The visit to the Block really put a new light on visiting Chinati.
Unfortunately there were no pictures allowed at Chinati/the Block this time (I guess the policy changes frequently), so these pictures are a combination of pics I took two years ago and what I could find on the internet. Pictures that aren’t mine should link through to the original source.
This last collage here is made up from shots I took of Dan Flavin’s pieces from my previous trip.
a funny lego version of The Block/Chinati that I found online