“The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.” —Paul Gaugin
My husband George and I are spending the holidays this year in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On our road trip we once again crossed Texas, this time lingering for a few days far west, in a town called Marfa, named in 1882 for a Russian heroine in Dostoyevsky’s classic novel, The Brothers Karamazov. The tiny town is also a movie buff’s destination, since hosting the stars and set of Giant in 1955.
Texas appropriates the biggest and best for itself, whether grocery stores, bar-b-que, or two-inch thick toast (all George’s choices), and so we shouldn’t be surprised to find an expansive beacon of modern art, an almost cult-like destination for New York Modernist enthusiasts, in a town of only two thousand residents, a place so remote that the nearest airport (El Paso) is a three-hour drive.
Yet perhaps it all makes sense, if one thinks about the dichotomy that was the New York art scene versus the rest of the country during the 1970s and 1980s. In the age of Disco, Dynasty, and Dallas a small group of New York artists focused on the pure form, the simpler the better, including a complete lack of meaning or metaphor. In direct contradiction to the excess prevalent throughout American culture during this period, Minimalism did not relate to the general public.
“It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again. Somewhere a portion of contemporary art has to exist as an example of what the art and its context were meant to be. Somewhere, just as the platinum iridium meter guarantees the tape measure, a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place.” —Donald Judd
We found Marfa’s role in the fading American West just as interesting as its late addition of contemporary art. The long-established reality of this small town of mostly working people of modest means who probably never saw a big city, much less New York City and MOMA, is in humorous contrast to the near beatnik invasion that accompanied not only Judd’s project, but also the sprinkling of contemporary galleries that popped up around town in tandem.
Indeed, Minimalism is important and unique as a movement, a philosophy and, certainly for Donald Judd, a legacy. Before the contemporary art invasion, this small Texas town was already on the map, along with hundreds of others, as a beacon of the fading American West. Yet Judd’s contribution makes it a place like no other. The historical significance of his Marfa projects may not attract the Mona Lisa crowd, but perhaps it’s only a matter of time.
Finally, I could post a photograph of the middle-of-nowhere Contemporary Art reproduction of a Prada store in the vicinity of Marfa. However, I choose instead to share with you the storefront of a creative gal who cleverly weaves together the West, a personal artistic vision, and New Orleans —- not as a reproduction, but in reality. Lorna Leedy (pictured below) makes waves in the fashion world from Marfa with her Fancy Pony Land. If you can’t get to Marfa, you’ll find her the first weekend of Jazz Fest in her tent at the New Orleans Fairgrounds.
Dolores Pepper (a.k.a. Wendy Rodrigue)
*Marianne Stockebrand writes about Donald Judd in the book Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd, Yale University Press, 2010
All photographs in this post by George Rodrigue
For more pictures and stories from our visit to Marfa, see the post “New York Art in West Texas”