Marfa: Art In The Middle of Nowhere

December 22, 2011 BY CAPSULESNEWS

Elmgreen and Dragset, Prada Marfa, by James Evans

Despite being set three hours away from the nearest major airport, the dusty town of Marfa sees a steady stream of international visitors, drawn by the Chinati Foundation, a museum founded by the artist Donald Judd, and by the hyped-up coverage of Elmgreen and Dragset’s ‘Prada Marfa’, a faux boutique-cum-art installation set in a lonely stretch of desert. But Marfa encompasses much more than these two stops, and it has evolved into an unexpectedly sophisticated destination, populated by quirky individuals who remain committed to a quasi-utopian ideal of creative community.

Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Chinati, with work from blue-chip names like Dan Flavin, Carl Andre and John Chamberlain, in addition to Judd’s monumental stainless steel and concrete works, remains the main attraction. A new installation by Hiroshi Sugimoto of miniature crystal pagodas, titled ‘Five Elements’, is on display until mid-summer. “Downtown” Marfa has plenty to offer as well, and culture lovers can avail themselves of an art-centric bookstore, several galleries, the Marfa Book Co., tours of Donald Judd’s former studios and home, and Ballroom Marfa, a contemporary arts space currently exhibiting the Neville Wakefield-curated show ‘Autobody’.

For a town of around 2000, the restaurant selection isn’t shabby - exceptional options include the award-winning Cochineal, from the former owners of the Michelin-starred NY hotspot, Etats-Unis, Tom Rapp and Toshi Sakihara, as well as Jett’s Grill at the Hotel Paisano, and the Food Shark food truck, which serves Mediterranean-meets-West Texas fare. Two accommodations stand out - the Hotel Paisano, which has hosted film stars like Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, exudes a rustic glamour, while the Thunderbird, part of Texan hospitality guru, Liz Lambert’s mini-empire of boutique hotels, puts a slightly ironic, minimal spin on motel living.There’s even a small selection of artisanal shops, including Fancy Pony Land’s wild neo-western wear, Moonlight Gemstones jewelry, often crafted from local stones and artist Mike Bianco’s pottery studio, Mud, where you can pick up unique tableware. Marfa’s in-the-middle-of-nowhere location requires a big time investment from would-be tourists, but paraphrasing the town’s tourism ads, “MARFA: Tough to get to, But once you get get it.” - Sameer Reddy