That’s so Marfa

When a mutual friend first introduced me to Mary Ann Glass a few years ago, I always remember how when Mary Ann learned I was from Texas the first thing she asked me is if I lived anywhere near Marfa, Texas. I recall thinking, where’s that? It would take a google search for me to find where it was in the state, and the answer to that is summed up in 3 letters: B-F-E.

The closest way to get to it is to fly into either El Paso, Texas or Midland, Texas, and then grab a car and drive a few more hours to get there. It’s in such a remote area of the state, and just on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert (within a couple of hours of Big Bend National Park), it takes a hardy, and a bit of a unusual sort to want to call it home. In fact the town was created solely as a watering stop for the railroads.

Marfa, Texas is really only famous for three things:

  1. Movie Locations: Giant was filmed in the area with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson,  Dennis Hopper, and in his final appearance James Dean; more recently the film No Country for Old Men was filmed in the area starring Tommy Lee Jones
  2. The Marfa Lights (atmospheric anomaly, some sort of bio-luminescence, swamp gas, ufos?)
  3. The Arts

The development of the arts was really galvanized in the 1970s when minimalist Donald Judd moved from New York City to Marfa for the express intention of finding a spot to permanently display his works. He would find an old abandoned World War II army base, and with help from New York’s Dia Foundation, he established the Chinati Foundation which displays both huge indoor and outdoor installations and is home to his outdoor Concrete series.

From the creative seed provided by Judd to the area, more artists soon began flocking to the area. Today, Marfa despite having a very small population of fewer than 2,000 according to the 2010 Census, has well over fifteen different art galleries, hosting artists from around the world. Marfa also now hosts a film festival too. The town has become synonymous with the arts, featuring many artisan boutiques and wares in the city, and nary a chain store anywhere to be seen.

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This is best embodied by the “White Shirt Marfa” just as it’s name suggests, it sells nothing but White Shirts, because apparently you can’t own enough of them. It can also be represented in Elmgreen and Dragset’s Prada Marfa, a pop culture land art installation, of a faux Prada store, with a door that isn’t functional. It’s been theorized to be the single most instagrammed location in the entire state. Of course, I couldn’t resist a Selfie either. It had just rained when I showed up, so I decided to take advantage of the mud and puddles, and stormy skies.

The town is so small, that most of the places a tourist might be interested in are closed except on the weekends. For this reason, I had intentionally left my exploring of the galleries and shops to Saturday, when everyone had hours listed as being open. Alas, in practice, over 2/3 of the galleries and shops I went to visit were closed, some permanently, some between installations, some on vacation.

The main reason I was in that part of the state is my cousin had invited me to a special weekend at McDonald Observatory in the nearby Davis Mountains, but when I realized Marfa was a short distance away from where I was staying in the neighboring town of Fort Davis, well I decided I ought to go give it a gander. Afterall, since I was in BFE, I might as well embrace the opportunity, as I have no idea if I’ll ever make it back.

You can look forward to installments of more photos in the near future from my travels to this part of the state.

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