Last weekend my sister Anne flew into town, and we hopped in the car and drove 6 1/2 hours out to nowhereland West Texas, to a very special place called Marfa. Marfa is located far, far away from everything. It sits more than an hour off of any major highway, and hours and hours away from any significant city. The city population is somewhere around 2,000, which is smaller than many high schools!
Marfa exists today as sort of a modern artists colony, pioneered by renowned minimalist artist Donald Judd. In 1971, Judd moved to Marfa from New York City and started to permanently install his art. Eventually Judd acquired decommissioned Fort D.A. Russell, and began transforming the fort's buildings into art spaces. Judd's vision was to house large collections of individual artists' work on permanent display, as a sort of anti-museum. Today, the legacy of his work is a big part of the town. The Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation work to maintain Judd's legacy, and they do it very well. We took the Chinati two-hour tour and saw several amazing art installations. Plus, signs of the art and respect for art dot the entire place.
Marfa felt like an amazing place for so many reasons, the most important of which is that I was on a sister-only trip with my friend and sibling Anne. But, Marfa is an amazing place because it thrives as an active and engaged community in a place that should be, by all logic, desolate and sad. There is an interesting aesthetic that comes from combining a stark West Texas landscape with a minimalist art movement, and combining an old sheep ranching community with a bunch of hipster infused residents. Doesn't sound like it would work, but it does. And it somehow makes it really magical. And perhaps most , I think the entire town has some secret pack to only use Mrs. Meyers hand soaps in their bathrooms. Seriously, every place was stocked with geranium, basil, lemon verbena, and lavender hand soap.
We spent only about 48 hours in the town, but did our best to pack in all the sites and culture we could.
We caught a stunning sunset on our way to dinner the first night that caused us to drive an extra few minutes out of town and park along the deserted highway to take in the colors and light.
We took a walk down their quiet main street, a combo of small town Art Deco architecture and vintage Texas town square style- some restored and some crumbling and abandon - with hardly any cars or people to obscure the view.
We ate dinner at a charming cafe, but a friendly, modern, minimalist, gourmet cafe. I had cauliflower with capers and tarragon, we ate lentil fritters in coconut chutney, and we had shared chicken and waffles then a piece of ginger root cake for dessert.
We took a two-hour tour of the Chinati Foundation, including the famous metal box sculptures installed in the old artillery sheds. The light against the angles of the art against the dessert plains background was beautiful. It made Anne want to sing and dance around the room. Judd believed that the prevailing model of a museum, where art is shown for short periods of time, does not allow the viewer an understanding of the artist or their work as they intended. Therefore his installations are permanent.
We also saw a light installation by Dan Flavin built out over the course of six renovated barrack buildings, made up of angled neon lights meant to be viewed from many vantages. We had to leave the building and enter from another side to get the full image of the art. Anne loved them.
After our Chinati Foundation tour we stopped at Marfa's sole food truck and had pulled pork tacos and a falafel burrito, sitting in the shade by the train tracks at the old railroad stop. I understand they used to load wool and livestock onto the cars in this space. Even the soda cans are vintage and artsy to fit in.
The day we left we rented vintage cruiser bikes, rode to breakfast, rode to a tiny farmers marker near the railroad track, and then road along the almost silent highway past Judd's cerement block sculptures at the Chinati Foundation. The landscape, the atmosphere, and the company made the place feel special.