New Permanent Outdoor Sculpture Comes to Marfa

by Jessica Fuentes July 8, 2023

Sleeping Figure, a new sculpture by Los Angeles-based artist Matt Johnson, has been donated to Marfa Invitational, a foundation that organizes an annual art fair. The work will be installed just outside the city later this year, on grounds where Marfa Invitational plans to build an art space.

A photograph of a large scale sculpture of a figure constructed from shipping containers with a mountain in the background.

Matt Johnson, “Sleeping Figure,” installed at Desert X, 2023

The 150-foot-long by 40-foot-tall piece is built from 12 shipping containers, which are positioned to resemble a reclining figure. The piece references a traditional subject found throughout art history, from depictions of Buddha to Henry Moore’s abstracted figures, while also nodding to Donald Judd’s aluminum pieces in the Chinati Foundation’s collection. The large-scale work cost $200,000 and took two years to complete. 

The funds to fabricate the work were provided by Desert X, a nonprofit organization in California, and the work debuted earlier this year as part of the organization’s Desert Biennial. The Desert X website provided this context for the work: “Conceived at the time when a Japanese-owned, Taiwanese-operated, German-managed, Panamanian-flagged and Indian- manned container behemoth found itself for six days under Egyptian jurisdiction while blocking the Suez Canal, Johnson’s figure speaks to the crumples and breaks of a supply chain economy in distress.”

A still image from a video of large shipping containers being stacked in place.

Still image from a Desert X video of Matt Johnson speaking about his sculpture “Sleeping Figure.”

In a short video on the Desert X website, Mr. Johnson explained, “The containers, they are really antithetical to nature… it becomes a nice contrast to the natural surroundings. I really wanted the mountain as the backdrop because it made me feel like the figure becomes an actor playing on the stage.”

In an ARTnews article, Mr. Johnson noted that originally he had hoped to sell the sculpture. However, when that seemed unlikely, he worried that the piece would be disassembled and the materials would be sold. Ultimately, he decided to donate the work to the Marfa Invitational. 

While many know the Marfa Invitational for its annual art fair, its director, Michael Phelan, is also working to create a sculpture park on a five-acre site near Marfa. In September, Sleeping Figure, will join six other sculptures that have been installed at the site, which include a powder-coated industrial steel grid mesh-like sculpture by London-based artist Rana Begum. Learn more about Mr. Johnson’s Sleeping Figure and the other pieces installed at the sculpture park via Marfa Invitational’s Instagram account

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