It’s Friday night in Marfa and I’m at the Lost Horse Saloon getting schooled on the difference between a cowboy and a rancher by the tall, one-eyed cowboy who owns the place. Locals are gathered around the fire pit smoking and drinking beers while inside a band plays on a little stage draped with the Texas flag. A few minutes earlier, I was in the courtyard of Ballroom Marfa, the arts nonprofit behind the famous Prada Marfa installation, where people were watching trippy projections and nodding along to the tunes of the Bitchin Bajas. And before that, I was drinking a margarita and eating mac and cheese at the bar in Hotel Saint George, the sleek new boutique hotel in town, where I was staying for the weekend along with a crew of Abercrombie models and some fellow Brooklynites.
In some ways, I find this remote town of 2,000 people shockingly like Brooklyn. And then I’m brought back to reality by one of the many idiosyncratic characters here—like the aforementioned cowboy—who remind me that Marfa is, after all, in the desert of west Texas. There’s definitely some synergy between the two places, and plenty of reasons for Brooklynites to visit, the main one being the art scene. For fans of Donald Judd and his contemporaries, a trip to Marfa is like a pilgrimage to Mecca (and takes just about as long to get there). I’d been dreaming of going for months and found plenty to do when I arrived.
If you’ve seen Judd’s work in Soho and at Dia Beacon, you probably know that he moved to Marfa in the early seventies searching for more space. He founded the Chinati Foundation on an old army base and invited Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain to create permanent installations there, though it grew to include the work of twelve artists. I spent Saturday touring the exhibits and got a peek at the Robert Irwin installation opening in July with Jenny Moore, the foundation’s director, who moved to Marfa from Brooklyn. Explaining how she fell in love with Chinati, she said, “This is the opposite of the hermetically sealed, climate controlled, evenly lit, very tame environment that we’re so used to seeing art in. It was such an extraordinary revelation that there doesn’t need to be a separation between art and life. It can be part of the land and the climate and the buildings can be transformed.”
For a deeper understanding, I toured Judd’s house with a guide from the Judd Foundation and went back to Chinati on Sunday. Communing with Judd’s concrete works, I was amazed to find myself completely alone in that vast desert landscape. I spent the afternoon visiting Marfa’s small contemporary art galleries, including Inde/Jacobs, which sells Judd’s sketches, and Rule, a Denver-based gallery in a house where artists live. I browsed the Marfa Book Company in Hotel Saint George and chatted with Tim Johnson, who runs it and plans readings, performances, and other cultural events there.
In the evening, I joined Taylor Livingston, the hotel’s Marketing and Events Coordinator, and Allison Josefowitz, the Director of Rooms, for nachos at Planet Marfa, a chill beer garden with a teepee. They were my unofficial guides, taking me around to the town’s quirky spots, including the very surreal Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour, filled with vintage TVs and obsolete computers with nineties trivia games you can play.
I spent my last night at the Brite Building—a huge two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom apartment associated with El Cosmico, Austin-based hotelier Liz Lambert’s collection of teepees, tents, refurbished airstream trailers, and yurts that hosts the annual Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love. I left on Monday morning satisfied, but feeling that I’d only scratched the surface. I’ll have to return.
photos by Laura Itzkowitz