Last weekend, Glasstire‘s Christina Rees and Brandon Zech made the trek out to Marfa (from Dallas and Houston, respectively) for the annual Chinati Weekend.
Christina Rees: Because I took a more scenic route back from Marfa on Monday, my drive was about ten hours long. And I was thinking: “Twice a year, max, for this drive. It’s a beast.” But I have to admit, it feels like Chinati Weekend was low-key this year compared to the last few years. Do you think it peaked about two or three years ago? Five years ago?
Brandon Zech: You know, I’m not sure. I expected this year to be crazy due to the Solange performance at Chinati, and while the event itself was rather crowded, it seems like many people made the trek on Sunday specifically for the concert rather than taking in the whole weekend. So Friday’s Made in Marfa (the event where galleries open their shows and artists open their studios to the out-of-towners) felt oddly empty — some of the locals were saying the same thing. I wonder if the expectation of crowds surrounding the Solange performance caused regulars to simply decide to skip out on this one. Did you feel there were as many events happening about town as there usually are?
CR: I felt like the schedule itself was a bit stripped down. But maybe I just feel less overwhelmed by busy art weekends in destination places because I’ve gotten so used to that kind of thing.
I felt like crowds were lighter everywhere I went, and evenings ended earlier. And I had no problems with any of this. If anything, it certainly took away any feelings of FOMO. But I also wonder if what was really happening is that Marfa just has a lot more places to park yourself: more galleries, more shops, more restaurants and bars in particular, and maybe, like me, if you’re a repeat Marfa-goer, you end up spending more time in people’s houses or studios than out on the streets wandering around looking for action.
BZ: Funny you say that—I was visiting Gene on Saturday and apparently there was a mechanic working on cars in the shop the following day. Sometimes during these weekends, the best art I see is in unconventional spaces; or at least, that’s what stands out because everything else is expected. For example, in 2015 we saw Daniel Chamberlin’s South Plateau Adobe Ruin, an installation created in an abandoned house that is “permanent,” so long as no one steals the works or clears out the structure. This year, in addition to Holsonback’s show in the garage, one of my favorite things was Joshua Edwards’ photo series and book Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk From Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa at the Marfa Book Company. The series has come full circle — it was shown at the Galveston Artist Residency in 2015 and is now on a shelf in the corner of the Marfa bookstore.
What artists/shows were some of your standouts for the weekend?
CR: Holsenback’s show was good, as was Raychael Stine’s solo show of paintings at Gene’s main gallery. I liked seeing Kelly O’Connor’s solo show at Wrong. I liked the installation at Ballroom Marfa; I like the adobe bricks that cover the whole floor. I liked having to negotiate that floor. I wanted to take my shoes off. And it all felt of a piece with that part of the world, like the materials were lined up with the geography, social history, and geology of the place. That was the point, though, so it works.
I couldn’t make myself appreciate the William Cordova installation at the Marfa Contemporary. I tried more than once. It may have been the installation itself, the way it sat in the space, but that was the entry point of the show, so despite its size and immersiveness, it left little impression on me.
What did you make of that one?
Bridget Riley was the main guest artist this year for Chinati. I like her installation, but I think you like it more that I do.
BZ: I like the Ballroom Marfa show (Tierra. Sangre. Oro.) more than I thought I would. In addition to the well-thought-out nature of the materials, it did a good job showing and communicating labor. Many exhibitions try and communicate the idea of work in different ways — sometimes the idea is abstracted, while other times it is more grounded. By completely covering the floors of two of Ballroom’s three galleries with adobe bricks, Rafa Esparza actually showed the work that went into the exhibition, and literally laid a groundwork for us to better understand the other works in the show that focused on the labor of female soldiers in the Mexican Revolution.
CR: To me one of the most rewarding things about Marfa and that region is the climate and landscape and sky. I’m a total sucker for it. I realize that the whole Southwest has this going for it, but I don’t always have a good excuse to get out into that environment. And it can be awfully difficult for art to compete with it, to compete with any sense of the spectacular when it comes to nature. I think artists get that, and many do what they can with their work in relation to that fact. Donald Judd was negotiating with it, that’s for sure.
None of us city types would be hanging out in Marfa if not for the art, but then I get there and I just want to walk along the edge of town and look out into the landscape. And I find myself walking around town and studying the streets and sidewalks, looking for tarantulas and lizards. The night sky is astonishing to me. Watching a massive storm form on the horizon — and then we’re supposed to go stand in a gallery and… ? I mean, fair enough. I like art, too. But you must know what I mean.
Forgive my tangent.
I suppose one of the upsides of hitting Marfa at least once a year over years is that, if you swing this way, you can visit certain things more than once and get a different sense of it over time — and by that I mean your own perspective on the work. You told me you went back to Judd’s sculptures on this trip, and Chamberlain’s work, too. Do you experience this work differently now than you did on your earliest visits to Marfa?
BZ: Oh, definitely. The first time I went to Marfa, I had five days in town, which as you can imagine if you’ve ever been there, is too long for a first visit. Even so, I felt a little overwhelmed; there’re so many art and design objects in Judd’s buildings that the collection as a whole simply isn’t digestible on one viewing. Couple that with Chinati’s permanent collection and the slew of artists living and working in Marfa, and you have a lot of stimuli, even if it is all around the central theme of minimalism.
The first time you go, it’s also a little confusing — Judd and his concepts aren’t necessarily the most accessible things in the art world. The pilgrimage aspect of the town helps, because on a ten-hour drive, there is nothing to do except notice how the landscape changes — it gives you time to get into a mindset. On repeat viewings, this gets increasingly easier and things begin making sense faster — the neurons are already firing because you know what you’re looking at.
But even all of the art in Marfa can’t overpower the town’s natural surroundings; as so many people have said before, if you put art and nature in tandem, nature wins. Two truly remarkable aspects of my trip were excursions to the Caverns of Sonora and to the McDonald Observatory. The caverns were some of the most gorgeous natural formations I have ever seen; plus, the sensation of sitting in a cave while a guide turns out the lights leaving you in pure darkness is chilling. The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis host events call Star Parties where the observatory staff gives you tours of the night sky and lets you look at stars, constellations, and the moon through telescopes. At about 6500 feet, the sky is so purely dark that you can see everything: the bands of the Milky Way, countless constellations, and even the Andromeda Galaxy. I hate to say it, but I’ll probably hold onto that experience longer than any of the art I saw in Marfa. It just can’t compete.
CR: Speaking of STARS, you saw Solange perform outside at Chinati on Sunday evening. I’ll admit here that I skipped it for reasons unrelated to each other. One was that they kept moving the time of the performance and after the third or so postponement I was kind of over it. And while you were at the show I walked around Marfa and tried to find us a table in a restaurant so we could eat when it was over. Which we did.
How was the show?
BZ: I really didn’t know what to expect from Solange’s performance at the Chinati Foundation — the only things we were informed of is that we weren’t allowed to have cell phones and that we were required to wear white clothing. Overall, it was basically a well-choreographed concert in which Solange performed songs from her 2016 album A Seat at the Table. It was different from her Guggenheim performance in that she adapted her stage set and costuming to suit (or rather to oppose) her environment. She was performing at the far end of Donald Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete, meaning that we as an audience had an incredible view of those pieces, the hangers housing Judd’s 100 works in mill aluminum, and the plethora of other buildings on the campus. Though the view was great, it was rather monochromatic — this is West Texas after all and yellow and tan are the colors — so Solange, her band, and her ensemble were all wearing bright pink; she also had pink columns and small circular stage-like elements behind her.
As a performer, Solange was cool, composed, and deliberate. She didn’t overperform, and every movement and gesture was calculated, meaning that we hung on her every word. Since the performance’s start time had been continuously pushed back, the sun set on her performance and the sky mirrored her costuming. Though I had heard positive reviews about the Guggenheim performance, I was worried how the concert would turn out since Marfa and Chinati are hard places to incorporate something that doesn’t belong. I was glad that the performance could hold its own.
CR: And how do you feel about Chianti Weekend in general these days, now that you’re back home? Do you feel like this is something you want to keep attending every year?
BZ: You know, that’s kind of a mixed question. The good thing about attending Chinati Weekend — the main reason I like it — is because everyone is in town and everything is open. Taking a trip to Marfa can be difficult because you might get into town and it turns out this person is on vacation for a month, and that artist is out of town for three weeks, meaning that if your goal is to see art, you’re somewhat inhibited. During Chinati, everyone in Marfa is present, willing, and waiting, because this is their big weekend. So while I feel like attending Chinati Weekend every year might not be necessary, I still think it’s the best way to really see all that Marfa has to offer. Once you know people in town and can work your way around, going at off-times during the year is nice because you get some of that small-town romance that’s lacking when many hundreds of extra people swarm the town. But I really don’t mind (and somewhat enjoy) the hustle and bustle of Chinati Weekend. Either way, it’s way more relaxing than city life.
My favorite show was LéAna Clifton‘s “with my head in the clouds… “ but I am slightly biased on this matter.
Solange gets a free ticket to Guggeheim and Chinati.
Still waiting for Coco Fusco, Senga Nengudi, James Luna, Lorain O’Grady and others whose contributions to the arts has been ongoing for the past 40 years but continuously excluded any “real” critical presence of Color.
Joshua Edwards spoke at our Society for Photographic Education conference last year in the hill country at a boys’ camp. I was so moved by his words and his project, I bought and read all of his books in one sitting. And then again. Happy to see that his work is being recognized in Marfa where he now calls home.
I have only been to Marfa once, but like you all–the magnificence is in the sky and landscape. Nothing in the north east compares to that sky.
Thanks for the kind words, Colette! Hope this finds you well, and if you’re ever out in Marfa please say hello (we’re in Chicago for the school year, but we’ll be back in December and all summer).