Text and photos by Roni Willett
Marfa, the small desert town that was revived by minimalist artist Donald Judd in the 1970s, is a charming yet explosive cultural hub of contemporary art. To make the trip one has to be a dedicated art lover as the two closest public airports, El Paso and Midland, are both a three-hour drive to the West Texas town.
One of the most monumental (and instagrammable) landmarks of Marfa is an installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset called Prada Marfa. Prada Marfa is a freestanding replication of a Prada store located 26 miles outside of Marfa and equipped with actual merchandise from the fashion line’s fall 2005 collection. This site-specific sculpture, made up of a traditional material to the region, adobe brick, was originally intended to naturally disintegrate into the surrounding landscape as a commentary on consumer culture. Due to early on vandalism and theft there have been constant efforts to maintain the site. Therefore, Prada Marfa still stands a decade after its October 2005 opening.
I had the opportunity of seeing the piece at night. The mixture of its warm, vert-amande lights that radiate through the merchandized-filled shelves set against the dark night backdrop and its strategic placement on a desolate highway surrounded by nothing but desert land left me with an eerie feeling. The store belongs to a larger artistic movement that places as much importance on the site of the piece as the piece itself. Elmgreen and Dragset’s non-functioning place of commerce, whose doors don’t open, uses irony and wit to explore social and cultural concerns.
Where to stay
Hotel Saint George is a contemporary oasis that is ideally placed in the heart of downtown Marfa. The hotel, like the town it resides in, is rooted with history, has modern tendencies and showcases the talents of local artisans. The hotel, which was recently built, borrows original flooring, brick walls, marble surfaces and steel doors from the 1886 hotel that preceded it. While the 55-room, boutique hotel has its own restaurant, bar and iconic bookshop, Marfa Book Company, it is also walking distance from some of the best restaurants, galleries and shops Marfa has to offer.
Where to eat
Marfa, dubbed as a popular destination for artists, is now also a hotspot for food lovers. Marfa restaurants offer unique dining experiences, farm-fresh ingredients and locally inspired dishes. Growing up in New York City, I had to get accustomed to the restaurants’ odd hours and days of operation. I arrived in Marfa with a list of must-try restaurants but more often than not locals would tell me the chef or the owner is off today ” and therefore the restaurant would be closed. This was in true small-town form, where all locals seemed to know each other so much so that they knew each others’ work schedules. The restaurants I had the pleasure of dining at were:
Marfa Burrito: With little signage, minimal but delicious dining options and cozy yet homey atmosphere, Marfa Burrito is perfectly described as a hidden gem. Accompanying the images of celebrities on the wall are differently clothed tables, mismatched utensils and locals quickly eating burritos before work. The home-made and authentic burrito options are listed in Spanish on a bright pink poster board. The restaurant is cash only.
515 S Highland Ave, Marfa, TX 79843
215 Highland St, Marfa, TX 79843
The Water Stop
1300 W San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843
103 S Highland Ave, Marfa, TX 79843
Hotel Saint George bar
105 S Highland Ave, Marfa, TX 79843
What to see:
The Chinati Foundation: In collaboration with the Dia Art Foundation, Donald Judd transformed an abandoned military camp into the home of several large-scale and permanent art installations. In total the Chinati Foundation has 15 buildings dispersed over 340 acres of land where twentieth-century minimalist artists thoughtfully transformed the abandoned buildings and natural landscape into artistic masterpieces. I have never seen anything like it. Legendary artists such as Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain and Donald Judd himself converted military barricades, housing quarters and medical facilities into a unique and full-body experience museum. As you walk along the grounds and enter different buildings designed by the artists named above as well as Carl Andre, Roni Horn, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Irwin and others you are transported into different worlds that were created by each artist.
Off-site locations include:
Robert Irwin’s Untitled (dawn to dusk)
The Judd Foundation: The properties of the Judd Foundation include Judd’s Marfa residence, La Mansana de Chinati/The Block, and various studio spaces, Architecture Studio, Art Studio, Cobb House & Whyte Building. Judd’s home was previously an U.S. Army Quartermaster’s office that Judd renovated into a home that holds some of his first large-scale installations and furniture, art he collected from his contemporaries and his library of over 13,000 books. Judd’s home and studios look untouched from when he last occupied them. These spaces are important in demonstrating Judd’s primary concern throughout his career; expressing the pleasure and necessity of living amongst art.
Ballroom Marfa: A dancehall from 1927 that was converted into a non-profit gallery that exhibits contemporary art in the form of film, music, visual arts and performance. Ballroom Marfa supports emerging artists from around the world with varying cultures and perspective.
108 E San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843
Eugene Binder Gallery
218 Highland St, Marfa, TX 79843
Where to shop
RABA Marfa: Great vintage T-shirt collection
1300 W. San Antonio St, Marfa TX 79843
Communitie: Trendy clothing shop within the old West Texas Utilities Company
122 Highland St, Marfa, TX 79843
Ashley Rowe: Ultra-modern and edgy contemporary clothing
213 S Dean St, Marfa, TX 79843
Garza Marfa: Marfa inspired interiors
103 North Nevill St, Marfa TX 79843
Mano: Clothing shop
120 E El Paso St, Marfa, TX 79843
Cobra Rock Boot Company
107 S Dean St, Marfa TX 79843