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A Good Town for Dreaming

Austin gets inside the West Texas capital of contemporary art

By Rachel Koper, Fri., Oct. 15, 2004

A Good Town for Dreaming
Photo By Rachel Koper

Possibly Marfa is for visual artists what Kerrville is for folk musicians.

The Austin in Marfa show at the VFW hall with Plan B Gallery and D Berman – see "Culture Flash!" Oct. 8 – looked awesome, and there was nothing minimal about it. With Tito's, Frito pies, DJ Faith Gay, and great art, Austin really represented itself well. At the opening Art Guy Jack is in a good mood, and I overhear him talking art "collaborations" with the Sodalitas art trio. Cool.

After many good gallery stops around town, I go to the much anticipated Ballroom, the new contemporary arts space. The building has a large courtyard. The gallery has a film and a mural. The sweet silkscreen wall features jazz musicians and black panthers. It has good colors, good composition, plus it looks fresh. In the largest gallery is a huge low pedestal with mostly brown objects on it: teacups, coffee, coconuts, cocaine, sugar, porcelain pancakes, cigarettes, plastic horses, doll heads, kitchen utensils, and other familiar things. Viewers are forced to circumambulate to see it all. The repetition of forms and limited palette make it a cohesive and interesting piece. Outside, I listen to great jazz from Denton. I meet artists from El Paso, and we chat about border culture. In the future, Juarez and El Paso could be more like Baja and Tijuana. Imagine these two border cities unified culturally, the artists all showing together. We can always dream. Marfa is a good town for it.

Saturday is Donald Judd Day, and the weather is perfect. There is a full schedule of events at the Chinati Foundation, which Judd founded and developed on the site of Fort D.A. Russell. First I walk the grounds of the army barracks, seeing Judd's 15 Untitled Works in Concrete. They are huge squares all set on the north-south line of a big grass field, each 60 feet from the next. I sit inside them and look at the views framed by their squares. It's pastoral and relaxing. I pick a wild squash. There has been a lot of rain. I see about 30 kinds of grasshoppers.

Inside the barracks, the Dan Flavin light show is on. Through a labyrinth of rooms, the artist has placed soft pastel 8-foot lights at odd angles – you stick your hand into the pink light, but the rest of you is in green light. The fluorescence vibrates and hums; if you get close in and stare for a while, you can get pretty dizzy. It is outer-space fun.

The architecture and the art at Chinati are really well-integrated. In two old artillery sheds, Judd has set 100 aluminum boxes. The space has big windows, and the boxes reflect the fields and sky outside. It's oddly like being inside an exploded disco ball – the reflections are at different angles, and the floor is pretty shiny, filled with the bright Texas sun.

Marfa & Minimalism: Don't knock it until you try it. For more information, visit www.chinati.org or www.ballroommarfa.org.

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