For minimalist artist Donald Judd, the middle of nowhere in the Chihuahuan desert was the perfect backdrop for Judd and his contemporaries’ brand of large-scale modernist sculptural art. Pictured above are Judd’s 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, which greet visitors to the Chinati Foundation and Marfa, Texas. These larger-than-human installations, which stretch for more than a mile, demonstrate the vast scale that could be achieved by art in the West Texas desert.
Judd built the Chinati Foundation on the former Fort D.A. Russell in Marfa, TX, in the 1980s. It might seem strange that a well-known, successful artist in the New York scene would choose to establish a museum out in the middle of nowhere, but Judd envisioned a project like Chinati long before it could be realized. In 1971, Judd rented a vacation home in Marfa to get away from the commercial art scene in New York City. Soon after he began to buy up ranch land and abandoned buildings, eventually with support from the Dia Foundation, to bring his concept of the Ideal Museum to life.
For Judd, the high cost of living and lack of space in urban art scenes stifled the creativity and possibilities of artmaking. The Western desert, with its expanse of wide open spaces affordable land, was the perfect site to experiment with a new way of displaying and experiencing modern art. The Chinati Foundation was initially established to exhibit the large-scale work of Judd, John Chamberlain, and Dan Flavin without the confines of creating commercial and portable work, but it has since expanded to include works by numerous other artists working with similar media.
Though the majority of works housed in the Chinati Foundation cannot be moved or bought, Judd’s dream of a non-commercial art space is still unrealized. Judd’s legacy as a fine artist and furniture maker exponentially elevated the cost of living (and visiting) Marfa, TX. Chinati and its small town home require financial support, which comes primarily from a luxury tourism industry.
De-commodifying art under capitalism is an impossible task. You can journey to Marfa to gaze upon the (almost) Ideal Museum, but it won’t be free.
For further reading….
- The Chinati Foundation website includes pictures and descriptions of the collection, as well as information about visiting.
- Zoya Brumberg has written about other architectural oddities on the UT American Studies blog