So here we are at our second stop on our trip. Unlucky for you all, Laura has asked Wes to write this one. I hope you will forgive the typos and grammar mistakes.
The second stop is Marfa, Texas. Some of you might ask, “Where is Marfa?“, and still some others might ask, “Why Marfa?” I will do my best to explain.
Marfa, Texas is in the middle of nowhere Hi Mountain Desert West Texas, has a population of about 2,000, and is an art Mecca of sorts. Back in the 70’s a minimalist artist named Donald Judd had reached a high level on notoriety in the New York art scene, but he had become disillusioned with the way art was shown in the galleries and museums. He also felt cramped in the big city. After a while looking at desert places, he settled on a little town named Marfa. Marfa had it all: large buildings for the old military base that had once housed German POWs; a poor economy that left real estate not only available, but also affordable; El Paisano, the hotel where Giant was filmed (James Dean’s last movie); and, of course, the Marfa Mystery Lights (we will get into that later).
Judd began to buy up the town. With help from the Dia Art Foundation, Judd bought and old military fort. Over the years he renovated some of the builds to house permanent installations not only of his own work, but also works of other artists like Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, and John Chamberlain to name a few. Here in this small town in the middle of nowhere are some of the biggest art names of the day’s works for anyone to come see and experience. I use the word experience on purpose. The way the works are in the buildings, the way the buildings are in the landscape, makes it an experience. This was one of Judd’s reasons for leaving New York. The work is now under the control of the Chinati Foundation, and you can take a tour of it all. You just have to find your way there. The Chinati does not allow pictures of the work. They feel it best to come see it for yourself, which I understand. So I will put up their website and some stock photos.
There is one piece that they do allow photos.
I have to say this was not my first time at Marfa. Some 13 years ago a close friend of mine, Adam Fowler, and I stopped by. It was a powerful time for me. I thought of and had dreamed of Marfa for a long time afterwards. The Dan Flavin piece has always stayed with me. While we were in Marfa back then, it had a lot of galleries with contemporary art and contemporary artist in residences. It had the feel of a very small ranching town in West Texas, with artist and art lovers pasting through. I felt good to find this small place and get to see one of the most important art collections in the world. It felt like one had a deeper understanding of the work and why it was put there.
These 13 years later has brought a change to this little oasis. A lot more young artist and artist types have moved there. Marfa has become a town where you can get a five-star dinner from a New York chef, buy your almond milk from a health food store, or lunch from a food truck. And just like in the big city, you can pay crazy amounts for rent because of all the city folk buying and renting the town up. I still loved the time Laura and I spend there, but I have to say it has lost some of the magic. Maybe it’s because the whole time I was there seeing the changes I keep thinking, “This is exactly what Judd was trying to get away from…” It seems like the city and the art scene has finally found Judd’s little hideaway. Here’s hoping they don’t take too much from the town. I still find the work very powerful, and I still would tell anyone that wants to see it to make the trip. The work does not disappoint, and the trip is part of it in my opinion.
Ok, the fun stuff. The Marfa Mystery Lights. Laura and I went out to the viewing center just outside of Marfa one evening just before sunset. We had heard you could see them most clear nights, but we had also heard that they only happen 8 to 10 nights out of the year. I do not know which is the more true statement ( the truth around the lights seems to be a gray area), but we were lucky enough to see them with our own eyes. They light up many miles away out of nowhere, change colors, dance around, blink, and some even join together to make an even brighter light. I wish our iPhone cameras could have picked them up in the night sky, but they could not. Believe me, I tried. The only thing I can say is they happen. People have tried to solve the mystery by saying they are car lights from the road through Marfa. After seeing them for myself I can definitely say that is not the case. There is no way cars move like that or have lights that bright.
The best I can do is show you someone else’s youtube post with a much better camera. I don’t know if they are ghosts of Spanish conquistadors looking for gold, aliens trying to tell us something, or just gases binding light; All I know is they are a very neat thing to see. As Laura says,“I don’t want the truth, I just want more Mystery Lights!”