Marfa, Texas, USA. In a symbol of the town of art, walking the installations lined up in vast space, overwhelmed by a museum never experienced before.
Museum of Contemporary Art in Marfa, Texas, USA. Marfa is famous for its galleries, and the Chinati Foundation can be said to be the symbol of Marfa’s art museums. This contemporary art museum is an art museum, but it does not feel like an art museum. This is because the installation artworks are limited to a vast site, but the scale of each artwork is big. What’s more, installations give the impression that they are exhibited outdoors, but many of the Chinati Foundation artworks are displayed inside vast buildings.
This foundation was established in 1986 by Donald Judd, a representative author of minimalism. Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York and founded the Chinati Foundation. The site was originally a World War II American military base, which was purchased by Donald Judd and constructed by renovating the existing facility.
The artworks are open to the public through guided tours. When I visited, there was a choice between a selection tour and a full tour, but since the selection tour takes 3 hours and the full tour takes 6 hours, I chose the selection tour. There were two of us on the selection tour, but there was no one else there besides us, so it was essentially a private tour. During the selection tour, we saw four artworks. It did not take 3 hours because it was just the two of us, but it took more than 2 hours. All of them are impressive artworks.
■ Donald Judd / 100 untitled works in mill aluminum
After leaving the visitor center, head towards a warehouse-like building about 50 meters away. Apparently firearms were manufactured at this location. The building has a semi-circular roof and seems to be over 10m high to the top. There is a door entrance at the end, and the guide unlock it and go inside.
The inside is vast. It is probably 20m wide and 80m deep. Here, rectangular parallelepiped objects made of aluminum are lined up. The size of the rectangular parallelepiped is approximately 2m (width) x 1m (depth) x 1m (height). They are all the same size, measuring 41″ x 51″ x 72″ to be exact. The size is the same, but the structure is slightly different. There is a space at the top, a board hangs diagonally, there are shelves inside, and so on. According to the explanation by guide, everything is different.
As the name of the artwork suggests, there are 100 rectangular parallelepiped objects lined up, but to be exact, 52 are lined up in the first building and 48 in the second building. When walking inside the first building and reach the end, the guide unlock the door on the other side, go outside and lock it, move to the next building, and unlock the door next to it. and go inside. I wrote that the size of the building is 20m x 80m, but these two buildings are lined up so that their 80m long sides are in a straight line. This arrangement is also very interesting.
The side of the building is made of glass and the inside is bright. As I walk among these rectangular parallelepiped objects, a question arose and I asked the guide, “Why did he choose this kind of artwork and display method?” “I do not think there was any particular purpose.” was the answer by guide. It is hard to say, but I was amazed at the thoroughness with which these rather absurd artworks were displayed, lined up at equal intervals across a vast site, and something I had never experienced before. Amazing.
■ Dan Flavin / untitled (Marfa Project)
Exit the second building where Donald Judd’s artwork is displayed. When the guide locks the door, we move to a building visible to the side. There is a U-shaped building here. I think the guide’s explanation was that it was a lodging facility. There is a door on the U-shaped horizontal bar of this building, and the guide unlock it. When I went inside, there was nothing there. Walk toward the U-shaped vertical part led by a guide. An illuminated artwork is displayed at this vertical part of the building. It is colorful and fantastic.
If that is all there, there is nothing really surprising, but here is what was amazing. The U-shaped vertical part is where the artworks are displayed, so I cannot go to the other side. View the artwork from the horizontal part at the bottom of the U-shape, and exit through the door at the bottom horizontal part. Once outside, the guide locks the door, moves to a building on the horizontal part above the U-shape, unlocks the door there, enters the building, and walks all the way to the back. Then, look at the U-shaped vertical part from the opposite side. There are artworks of illumination there. However, the color is different from the first artwork I saw. This is also colorful and fantastic.
I think the above makes sense, but there’s more to come. There are six such buildings in a row. These U-shaped buildings are lined up in the direction away from the visitor center, and there is an illuminated artwork similar to the first one I saw on display. Some of the artworks are installed on the vertical part of the U-shape, the same as the building I first saw, while others are displayed on the straight ends of the U-shape at the top and bottom. In other words, once entered the building, appreciate the illuminated artworks without having to walk all the way to the back.
We viewed all six buildings, but the guide unlocked the doors one by one, and when we finished viewing, the guide locked the doors and unlocked the next building’s door. This process continued. Buildings have two doors, but some buildings have three or even four doors. In other words, a total of about 15 doors are unlocked and closed. The guide jingled the keys, looking for a different key for each door, opening the doors, and we entered. When we leave the building, the guide looks for the keys and lock the door. This process is repeated. The six buildings are approximately 300 meters from front to back. we probably have walked more than 1km by the time we have seen everything. I went to see it in May, but it was in the evening and the temperature was close to 30 degrees. Before the viewing, I was given a plastic bottle of water, and now I understand why it was given to me.
Repeatedly entering and exiting through the door, unlocking and closing the door by the guide, walking inside the building, moving from building to building, admiring the illuminated artworks, drinking water from a plastic bottle. The above process is repeated. After watching it, I felt an indescribable sense of accomplishment. This can be considered an experiential artwork. It is not just the viewing, but the process up to the viewing that is amazing. Enough impact.
After watching, the guide was covered in sweat. Halfway through, I was asked, “Do you want to watch it until the end? If it is too difficult, you can stop halfway.” But I watched it until the end. Experiencing the entire process is an important part of this artwork, so please do not give up and complete it until the end.
Now, this artwork reminded me of James Turrell’s artwork in terms of its handling of light. I checked with the guide and learned that Dan Flavin is about 10 years older than James Turrell and is a pioneer in this field.
■ Robert Irvin / untitled (dawn to dusk)
This artwork is located outside the premises. After admiring Dan Flavin’s artwork, We returned to the visitor center and took a short break. By the way, there are books, postcards, etc. available for purchase at the visitor center. This Robert Irvin site is located less than a minute’s drive from the visitor center, but in order to finally go to the site in the center of Marfa, each person gets on the car that brought them there and the following the car being driven by the guide.
Park the car in front of the site. The site is a U-shaped building with a stone pillar in the center. The building and site are rectangular, approximately 50m x 20m, with no buildings on one 20m side and a space in the center. The height of the building is approximately 5m. The stone pillars were said to have been brought from Yakima, Washington, or from Ireland.
There is a door on the left side facing the building, and the guide unlock it. When entered the building, the walls and floor are painted black. Two rows of hallways lead toward the back. Large windows are installed at equal intervals on the outside and inside of the building, and light from outside is projected onto the wall in the center of the hallway. To the left of this building is the black world. Fantastic.
Walk to the end of the hallway and come to a U-shaped vertical line. From here, head to the other side of the building. Multiple translucent partitions have been set up, and go through a hollowed-out space in the center that only one person can pass through, a world of white appears. The walls and floor are painted white. The right side of the building is also divided into two rows of corridors, and windows are placed at equal intervals on the outside and inside of the building. Because it faces west, the sunset light enters the building, creating a mysterious scene where the wave pattern of the building’s eaves is reflected inside the building.
Unlike the artworks of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, this artwork does not have a clear object to admire. Walk through a quiet space with no one around, watch the shadows reflected on the wall by the sunlight coming in from outside, and experience the process of changing from black to white. It is a luxurious space. By the way, this building was used as a hospital for a military facility.
■ John Chamberlain / sculptures
After viewing Robert Irvin’s artwork, headed to the center of Marfa by car. When I followed the guide’s car, it stopped next to a large building. I guess it is 80m x 20m, about the same size as one of the warehouses where Donald Judd / 100 untitled works in mill aluminum was exhibited. This building is very prominent as it is located in the center of Marfa town. The day before, when I was taking a tour of the Judd Foundation and walking around the old bank building next door, I found it strange to see a huge building with no sign of people in it, but now I understood what it really is.
The guide unlocks the door on the side of the building and enters. Immediately after entering, there is a huge bed object, and behind it, objects made of iron are lined up randomly on the floor. There are 25 artworks in total, and just like Donald Judd / 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, the expression ”take my hats off” is a perfect expression to describe the thoroughness with which these absurd artworks are lined up in a vast space.
There is a TV screen behind the giant bed near the entrance, and the guide turns it on. On the screen, a strange and ridiculous image from the past was playing. The artwork, the vast space, the incomprehensible video footage, it is hard to explain, but it might be appropriate as the last artwork of the tour. By the way, this place used to be a factory that made military uniforms in the past.
With that, the tour ends. The guide stopped the video, locked the door, and drove back. It ended at nearly 7 p.m. The final piece was displayed in the John Chamberlain Building, located on Highland Street, Marfa’s main street. As I walked out onto Highland Street and gazed at the courthouse building, the symbol of the town, I found myself crying at the impact I had received from this tour. Amazing.
In addition to guided tours, there was also a program where freely view a limited number of artworks at a limited time, but if you are visiting for the first time, it would be the best to take a tour. After all, the site is so vast that it would be easy to get lost, and I think you can understand just how wonderful this place is by talking to the guide.
By the way, Chinati is the name of a nearby mountain, which is considered a sacred place by the locals.
Finally, about photography. Taking photos is prohibited. This was partly the artist’s intention, but the guide explained that “if allow photos, the guide will not be able to proceed”. It is true that there are so many spots that visitors want to take photos, and cannot stop taking pictures. The photos of the inside of Chinati Foundation posted on this website are taken from Chinati Foundation’s official website or are postcards purchased at the visitor center. Thank you for your understanding.
Visited in 2023
■ Name : Chinati Foundation
■ Address : 1 Cavalry Row, Marfa, Texas, USA
Now, let me point out some things to keep in mind. This happened when I entered the grounds of Chinati Foundation. This location is about a 5 minute drive from the center of Marfa. The area is surrounded by a fence and the gate is closed. There is a building in front of the site, and you may be wondering where the reception is, and maybe it is closed, but I want you to get out of your car and open the wooden gate yourself to enter. There is a stainless steel latch at the top of the gate, so you have to remove it yourself. In front of this entrance is a building that could be mistaken for a reception desk, but it did not seem to have anything to do with Chinati Foundation.
(described on Oct 29)