A quarter century ago, in the dusty heart of West Texas, Donald Judd founded the Chinati Foundation, a museum dedicated to the intersection of contemporary art and the myth of the American frontier. To mark its milestone anniversary this year—and its conversion from backwater to creative hotbed capable of drawing art aficionados from around the world to the town of Marfa—Chinati has organized an ethereal yet authoritative show by Hiroshi Sugimoto entitled Five Elements.
Consisting principally of miniature crystal pagodas embedded in photo negatives of seascapes from around the world, the exhibition echoes Judd’s interest in creating a context for works of art that are in harmony with architecture and natural landscapes. (If you can’t catch the show before it closes next summer, a sister show of Sugimoto’s work from the same series, Surface of the Third Order, is currently on display at the Pace Gallery’s West 25th location.) Chinati isn’t Marfa’s only offering for art fans. In addition to several galleries, there’s a world-class art bookstore, the Marfa Book Co., and the Judd Foundation’s offices, which offer tours of his former studios and residence.
The town’s generously-termed ‘downtown’ features Ballroom Marfa, an exhibition space and arts center currently exhibiting the Neville Wakefield-curated show Autobody, which explores another all-American obsession: car culture. With only four works on display, the show is modest in scope, but it exhibits a kinetic appeal—Liz Cohen’s hydraulic sculpture, “Trabantimino,” comes to jerky life at the push of a button, while Jonathan Schipper’s installation features two cars on hydraulic tracks, engaged in a slow-motion crash set to unfold over the duration of the show.
A three-hour drive from El Paso, Marfa’s desert location has saved it from overdevelopment, but change is still afoot. Marianne Stockebrand, Chinati’s director from 1993 to 2010, and now the owner of Tienda M, an elegant boutique that offers accessories sourced from across the Mexican border and a curated selection of clothing from Dosa, recalls that, “five years ago, you couldn’t find a drop of olive oil or Italian pasta. People now can make a living here at things which didn’t exist then.” She adds, “There’s a certain freedom. There’s a guy that shows movies and if people come, good. If not, fine. That’s the beauty—it’s not to make a big impact in the art world or to be written about in blogs. It’s simply because people want to do it.”
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Five Elements on display until July 15. Visit chinati.org for more information.
Credits: Sugimoto: 6 inches. Temporary exhibition, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. Photo courtesy of the Chinati Foundation. Art © Sugimoto Studio, New York. Schipper: 1983 Chevy Camaro, 1993 Pontiac Firebird. Steel hydraulic track, 193 x 48 x 66 inches. Edition of three; Courtesy of The West Collection, Oaks, PA Photography © Fredrik Nilsen. Cohen: Modified Trabant 601 Deluxe, Chevrolet 305 V8, Chevrolet 350 turbo transmission, custom drive train. Retracted 154 x 70 x 55 inches, extended 226 x 70 x 55 inches. Courtesy of Salon 94, New York, NY. Photography © Fredrik Nilsen