Minimalism in the middle of nowhere or cultural shock of Marfa!

Please, those of you art critics, do me a favor and duck-tape your mouth for a minute to give me a chance to express Minimalism as I see it. Ready? Total silence is deafening! When there is no sound but just the beauty of earthy tones meeting the blues of a sky in a still line of the horizon; when a passing car many miles away is a sound sensation; when you cannot hear anything but your thoughts and occasional insect running it’s errands. In the middle of this soundless beauty, literally in the middle of nowhere, you find the works of New York minimalists in their full glory enlightening a former military base… all 38 building of it!!!! Most unexpected but a perfect fit! This is a mind-boggling phenomenon, and this is what Marfa, Texas is!

I heard about Marfa beings an arts destination for many years and was looking forward to visiting it. My husband Robert has become a very accomplished nature artist / photographer. West Texas promised to be filled with beautiful landscapes so I decided to give a Marfa/Big Bend trip to Rob for his 60 Birthday to photograph. We were planning to stay for three days in Marfa and three days in the lodge in Big Bend. We hired a guide for one day for Big Bend to show us around the park in a hope of finding favorite spots to visit on our own in the future. At the recommendation of a friend I booked the historic Hotel Paisano in Marfa and we embarked on our trip eager to explore West Texas!

The classically beautiful Hotel Paisano was build in 1929 and served as the center of activity during the making of the movie the “GIANT” starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and Dennis Hopper. All of the hotel walls are still covered in the beautiful faces of the movie starts chilling out in lounge chairs. Elizabeth Taylor herself yawning in-between filming episodes…still beautiful! As for us, despite it’s unmistakable charm “historic” hotel turned out to be a bit claustrophobic and we moved to the newly built Hotel St George across the street just to find ourselves in a sophisticated New York loft-like environment … Totally unexpected! Another phenomenon of Marfa!

Did you know where the suspiciously Russian name Marfa comes from for a town located in the heart of West Texas out of all places? Reportedly, the wife of a railroad executive Hanna Maria Strobridge suggested the name MARFA fittingly named after a character in a novel, from Feodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which she was reading at the time. Marfa, the county seat of Presidio County, is at the junction of US Highway 90 and 67 in the northeastern part of the county. It was established in 1883 as a water stop and freight headquarters for the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway. What an unexpected surprise!

In 1971, Donald Judd, the renowned minimalist artist, moved to Marfa from New York with the intention of installing his art. The really unusual thing was not his move to the desert to create and exhibit his work, but his decision to create a venue out in the desert for the permanent installation and exhibition of his own work, plus that of his friends Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain.  He thought that museums in big cities are limited in ability to show large bodies of work. In Marfa, where the spaces were big and cheap, they could show large, site-specific installations. Judd bought an abandoned army storage base and made it into the artsy hub. Crazy!

I like my blogs to have some kind of inspirational message, am guilty of being a motivation speaker, trying to help others to help myself, I guess. This blog could take many different directions like: converting military base into an art museum is they way to go! Make Art Not War! Or it could take a direction of a creative idea of an intellectual from the elite bubble of New York and economic consequences of it for Marfa. You ask what consequences? Well, because of this crazy Chinati Foundation started by Judd, Marfa became one of the most reputable art markets in the world. Hotels, restaurants, cool endeavors pop-up like mushrooms making this Marfa, still in the middle of nowhere, a desirable place to live.

During our short stay in Marfa, Rob and I explored the museums. One of the stops of the Chianti foundation tour was an entire wing solely dedicated to the works of John Chamberlin. Among his “usual suspects” of smashed cars, his signature works, was a huge white couch, big enough for about 25 people lounging at the same time. On both ends of the couch were placed two old TVs. So, the idea was for the visitors to take their shoes off and jump up and down on this big white couch while watching half-naked people smoking various devices and having a hard time to finish their sentences because they are severely stoned on two TVs in case one get our of sight for a moment.

YES! and WE, the members of the modern respectable society (as I see us) look at these clowns in disbelief and judgement. I felt offended! This is not art! This is some kind of tasteless mocking of what I believe in! How dare they! But… while climbing in the cold white couch in a company of a few other adventurists I found my motivational hook for this blog! Hallelujah!!! Here it is: these crazy artists, like it or not, brought interest, life and financial prosperity to the heart of very conservative West Texas. Ha,Ha,Ha! After all we are all connected, all staying in the same line between birth and death, copping with life the best we can, liberals and conservatives, somewhat sane and somewhat crazy!

Pictures by Robert Michaelson