Judd Club


Left: The staff of Ballroom Marfa with the artists of “You Are Here.” Right: A view of the Chinati Foundation's outdoor dinner for 1,500. (Photos: Alberto Halpern)

We woke up Saturday morning in motel beds, adobe guesthouses, and dew-damp tents to find that the freak cold front had passed and the skies over Marfa, Texas, were back to their regular shade of blinding blue. Lone Star hangover or no, we were determined to catch all we could of the nutty blur that was the Chinati Foundation’s nineteenth annual Open House weekend. Boots on. Find burrito and coffee. Hit the streets.

The first weekend in October was not always the “Marfa Gras” it is now. Before Chinati founder Donald Judd’s death in 1994, Open House brought to this one-stoplight town each year Don’s favorite bagpiper and maybe a few score of his old friends. The event slowly gathered steam until 2000, when Chinati unveiled a massive and much adored Dan Flavin installation. In the five years since, every media outlet from W to the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times has anointed Marfa a hip art destination; accordingly, Open House has spilled over the foundation’s gate and into town. Chinati still picks the date, mails the invites, and lines up the biggest acts—this year, the marquee names included artists John Chamberlain, Tony Feher, and Maureen Gallace, as well as Yo La Tengo, in a performance presented jointly with Chinati’s new neighbors Ballroom Marfa—but they’re not the only dance in town anymore.

Call it a Burning Man for the Riesling set. Last weekend galleries both perennial and ephemeral opened in every corner of Marfa, in garages, in an ancient grocery store, in buildings that were ruins only last year. “You just come and walk around and look at galleries,” the girl pouring coffee at the Marfa Book Company explained into a phone tucked under her chin. A black van cruised up Highland Avenue with the slogans GO JOHNNY CHAMBERLAIN! and FEHER #1, which set the sidewalk coffee drinkers to giggling. Sometime later a naked Texas Tech sculpture student Saran-wrapped himself to the awning of a furniture store.

Left: Artists Carol Bove and Adam McEwen after the opening at United Artists, Ltd. Right: Yo La Tengo on stage. (Photo: Alberto Halpern)

Well, it takes all kinds—or, as Marge who clerks for the judge down at Marfa’s big pink courthouse is wont to say: “All God’s children were there.” In the Chamberlain orbit were Marc Glimcher and Andrea Boudonis of Pace Wildenstein and Pace director and Chinati board member Douglas Baxter, as well as Matthew Drutt of the Menil Collection. Whitney board member Beth Rudin de Woody was there, as was Feher’s dealers Chris D’Amelio and Lucien Terras. The Dia crowd, including founder Heiner Friedrich, director Michael Govan, and chairman of the board Leonard Riggio, was in town, too, no doubt gratified, or perhaps appalled, at what their early support of Judd’s lonely desert outpost had wrought. Friedrich beamed as he welcomed art pilgrims to view his collection of works from Andy Warhol’s “Last Supper” series; in a twist their creator would no doubt have appreciated, the larger-than-life Jesuses now beam blankly down from the wall of a former discount store.

Back at Chinati, Chamberlain’s complex and silly early foam works cried out to be squeezed; the artist himself, on the other hand, most certainly did not. The week before he’d given a comically gruff interview to The Big Bend Sentinel (“How did his crush car pieces come to be included in Chinati’s collection, the artist was asked. ‘Bribery!’ he barked.”), and he kept up the rascally swagger all weekend. Made to stand on stage Saturday afternoon and explain his work, Chamberlain was blunt: “All I do is make it,” he said. “If you can’t see it in what I’ve made, there’s nothing I can say.” That evening he showed up two hours late to a fireside chat organized by Judd’s children at the Block, Judd’s former residence, leaving the hand-picked crowd to crunch around the gravel yard downing nervous shots of Patron. Meanwhile, at the gutted Holiday Capri motel, Yo La Tengo performed for an enthusiastic crowd of college students and art-worlders from all over and Feher seemed to be everywhere, sharing a raspy laugh over the fan van. We were even allowed to touch the water bottles and webbed knots of weed-whacker line he’d hung in one of Chinati’s abandoned stables.

Left: Chinati Foundation exhibiting artist Tony Feher. Right: An installation view showing some of Heiner Friedrich's Warhol paintings. (Photos: Alberto Halpern)

On Saturday I wandered back over to Ballroom Marfa for a second, sober look at Larry Bamberg’s new work Sweet White Light of a Cream Colored Inevitable, just to confirm that the lurking yellow mound and its nagging flies hadn’t been some beer-fed fever dream. Equally haunting was Matthew Day Jackson’s mobile of a dismembered wooden eagle: I stared up at it to find a shriveled but defiant rattlesnake head staring right back. The sun fell on the railroad tracks somewhere even further west than Marfa, and I walked back downtown. At the new United Artists, Ltd., the clean lines of artworks by Carol Bove, Adam McEwen, and Seth Price basked in the golden light that came in through the former garage’s wide, west-facing door.

But as every year, the best show in Marfa was not at Ballroom co-founder Fairfax Dorn’s now annual house party, but at the packed lunch counters, the realtor’s stoop, or anywhere one could sit and watch the sparks jump the gap between Marfa’s opposing terminals of Is and Becoming. The gals at Sandy’s 7 to 11 were already gearing up for Halloween but took time out to decorate their store windows with posters of the Mona Lisa and American Gothic framed in orange tinsel. At Carmen’s Café, a table of out-of-towners waiting for their chips and chile traded flip sentences that began “I don’t think the locals appreciate…” or ended “…and that’s why Donald Judd came here.” Don himself watched the whole proceedings from one of Laura Wilson’s handsome photographs hung in the back of the bookstore, and he wasn’t telling. On the road out of town Sunday morning the rental cars stopped one by one at Elmgreen & Dragset’s new, and newly vandalized, Prada Marfa, now surrounded by a sea of tire-churned mud after last week’s rain. The graffiti had been painted over, the busted door re-hung and sealed up tight. New handbags, their bottoms slashed out, had been airlifted in to replace those the vandals had carried off. There’s a new alarm system now, too. When somebody breaks in, it calls New York.