I’ve always wanted to visit Marfa, Texas. I have read numerous articles, watched documentaries and Netflix series (I Love Dick) about Marfa, I’m practically obsessed! Now that I’ve been, I’m not quite sure that I “get” this tiny toehold of culture in the vast desert wilderness any better than I did before my excursion. I can tell you that the allure is real, it’s inexplicable, something you just can’t quite put your finger on.
As a birthday present, my hubby bought us VIP tickets to the first annual Marfa Invitational, which began last Thursday, April 4th, in the ballroom at the Hotel Saint George. Part art fair, part experience, this intimate exhibition consisted of 9 galleries featuring 1 artist each. The renown New York artist, Michael Phelan, launched the event, offering a rich agenda of artist talks, cocktail parties and mingling with locals, gallerists and collectors amidst the far West Texas backdrop.
All Roads Lead To Marfa
Phelan was an art school hero of mine, making my first visit to Marfa especially exceptional. His warm, giddy demeanor gave us a big Texas welcome as he bopped around each event with excitement, usually donning a floppy hat and some sort of fur accoutrement. Both he and his wife, Mellissa are New York expats. In Art News, Phelan says, “I like to say all roads lead to Marfa. Literally, the world comes to us.” This is not a glib statement, given what it takes to get to Marfa. After spending just a few days in this desert oasis, I believe it.
Marfa Modernism: A Design Lovers Dream
Artists have been coming to Marfa since the famed American minimalist sculptor, Donald Judd, permanently housed his art in Marfa’s army barracks in the 1970’s. However, there has been an influx designers and artists over the past 5 years as New Yorkers and Angelenos have moved to here in search for a simpler way of life. It seems as if everyone who lives in Marfa makes something. Historic adobe’s and commercial buildings have been turned into really cool spaces and a style called Marfa Modernism has found its roots. We rented an Airbnb from a New-York-artist-gone-Marfan, who converted an old Texaco station into a modern industrial compound.
The compound included a residence, a live-work space with a huge, to-die-for painting studio and our casita (more like a modern industrial cabin) in the back. Coming from the rustic vibe of the northwest, the modern industrial architecture, refined minimal sensibility, huge agave plants and open, light filled spaces made me long for a desert compound of my very own.
Vernissage: Opening Night
Opening night drew a mix of locals and out-of-towners poolside for tacos and mezcal. There was a curious mix of cowboy hats and the usual black arty garb donned at art receptions. Not your standard art fair and sooo refreshing!
The Art Fair
The exhibition itself was tiny in comparison to the international art fairs I am used to. “I wanted to give collectors time to really experience the work while filtering out the distractions and noise of mall-like fairs,” says Phelan in Cultured Magazine. Works of note: Achenbach Hagemeier from Berlin presented Corey Masons gestural paintings; Anna Fasshauer’s whimsical metal sculptures were presented by Nino Mier Gallery from Los Angeles; Sargent’s Daughters from New York exhibited along Emily Furr’s canvases charged with phallic innuendos and Tomoo Gokita’s gray-scale paintings exhibited by Bill Brady Gallery, Miami.
We spent our afternoons perusing curated boutiques and galleries, lingering at laid back cafés and stopping by the occasional food truck/bus (because we don’t have enough of them in Portland).
The shopping is fabulous! Marfa’s artisan sensibility is ripe for finding one-of-a-kind pieces both for the home and wardrobe. Each boutique is so finely curated, they’re like uniquely individual museums filled with rare treasures.
Our evenings as VIP’s brought us into the homes of regional artists’ Douglas Friedman and Michael Phelan. Along with his wife, gallerist Melissa Bent, Phelan transformed a 1930’s Texaco station into an iconic artists compound. This open concept, industrial chic space is filled to the nines with conceptual art. Needless to say, I was in heaven!
Our final evening was cocktails and a chef’s tasting dinner at The Capri, a local haunt in the old Thunderbird Restaurant space. There were toasts and expressions of gratitude to everyone who helped make the fair a success. I sat next to a young designer named Elizabeth Hohimer. Originally from Texas, she lived and worked in Los Angeles before moving back to her home state, settling in Marfa. I had to pry…why Marfa? “I have time to focus on my work AND work with the famous designer, John Patrick, who lives here in Marfa. With the fast pace and high rent in L.A , I didn’t have the time or resources to do what I love.” That about sums it up.
On our way out of town, we made our final stop at the Chinati Foundation to view the installations of Donald Judd and his contemporary, Dan Flavin. I have seen Judd’s work more times than I can count and, though I respect his work and his contributions to art history, minimalism isn’t particularly my thing. Stepping into the renovated army barracks filled with 100 of his aluminum works was breath taking! I had seen numerous photos of the installations over the years but nothing could compare to the real deal. The light poured into the space through his trademark floor-to-ceiling quartered windows. Looking out over the vast expanse of the desert, I could empathize with Judd’s reasons for choosing a town so small, locomotives couldn’t even bother to slow down when passing through. There is a fullness to the isolation here and a complexity to its culture. It leaves one feeling that the Marfa experience is nothing short of transcendental. In Marfa, the desert landscape is so vast, it cleanses the visual palette and the light is simply magnificent.
Have you been to Marfa? Tell us about your adventures below. We’d love to hear!
Written by guest blogger Kelly Kerwick