Marfa Pics, Chinati No Pics

I spent a few days in Marfa starting a small but enjoyable project. Of course, I took some time out from very pressing work (deadlines, fires) and even this project (inspiration, serenity).

By the way, their new-to-me convienence store / gas mart Stripes sells huge, good breakfast tacos. Their homemade tortillas are among the best I’ve had…


My last second-to-last day in Marfa, I took in the Chinati Foundation’sSelections Tour“, and it was just the docent leading two younger men and myself. As a designer who has to not just create spaces but words, I need to be inspired so much. But no picture-taking is allowed…maybe my words and links will help?

At 6′ tall, I was taller than the docent, but dwarfed by both younger guys touring…by at least 4”. One happens to be an accomplished sound artist from LA, and the other who is also in design and from France but living in the US; he was very reserved about what he does. So, I didn’t ask. That’s all fine, and we had the tour to ourselves, to ponder in solitude. For all of us, it was the spare context of how each piece was sited, and what each or all parts together created. For me, I was also with folks who also make a living in design, feeding off their intuitions and reactions.

We saw many of Judd’s modular aluminum works, Flavin’s use of light and empty spaces, Andre’s writings, and Chamberlain’s sculptures reusing what we in the wild west take for granted (and loathe every drive). And some more since we were such a small group :-)

As a landscape architect, I had little idea how much Chinati’s mostly contemporary art would tie into the natural Chihuahuan desert grassland beyond, or what I do. It works, whether a rhythm of windows allowed us to see all with the outdoors, or bringing in the light (and heat…it is June, and those buildings are either not cooled or minimally cooled).

Seeing tans among the greens from their unusually wet warm season, and plentiful clumps of Palmilla / Yucca elata, works. And even if the only negative of the distant edge of Chinati’s land is ruined by the struggling riparian cottonwood row, the docent reminded us each were planted by Donald Judd. Just proof that the greatest can make blunders…it’s usually the plant selection and design!

And if you enjoy wildflowers and grasses interplaying with yuccas and distant views of low mountains, the walks between buildings where more installations are housed will get you going as much as the installations themselves.

Chocolate Flower / Berlandiera lyrata literally edges hundreds of feet of each walkway. Two species of Globemallow / Sphaeralcea spp., various grasses including Sideoats Grama / Bouteloua curtipendula, and more wildflowers I forget. And many more more yuccas. Hence the need to take notes next visit…

This was formerly a military installation, Fort D.A. Russell, then the Marfa army Airfield in WWII, and it was closed in the 1950’s. The excellent cover of classic desert grassland there has either restored itself in 50+ years or somehow (doubtfully) remained amidst all the foot traffic and activities that take place on a military installation. There were few weeds, and the recovery time with 2x the rainfall of where I live must be faster.

I need to comb my father’s memoirs to see if he ever flew out of their airfield, but nothing so far. As he vividly remembered every water tower and scene, his never mentioning Marfa could mean he was never there.

I’m glad they don’t allow the taking of any photos. You have to go, and then you will get it…if I can get it, others can too.

Chinati does allow sketch pads and note taking, and I may do that next time. For your first time, just bring yourself and take it in without all that. Wednesdays are quieter than weekends. And when driving there or around town, listen to Marfa Mood Music such as Pink Floyd, Junip, Balmorhea or Bill Callahan, especially if you;re like me and you like seeing others’ gardens – some good ideas among all the usual lawn-foundation shrubs-shade tree rehash.

the Chamberlain building we toured, that evening…Desert Candle mania!

Stay tuned for many more photos from my trip, but less words. It gets better, so here’s a small hint…

Just imagine eating here!

4 Replies to “Marfa Pics, Chinati No Pics”

  1. First, I had to look where Marfa was, I only drive through the panhandle. It looks and sounds like a wonderful place. Chinati sounds enchanting.
    Ok, I want to eat on the patio. Oh, and I laughed at your taco comment, you sure love that kind of food. Me?, Chipotle Grill and a margarita is my speed. Lol

    Yet the salad I had out there was as good as anything I make…your Chipotle/margarita or my taco would be good, too. Yes, Chinati espeially when you can go contemplate it is ideal!


  2. Work and pleasure. What better combination and to eat under those yucca blooms. I call that perfect timing.

    I need to figure out how to sneak in with my breakfast tacos next time!!


  3. Beautiful! I’ll just have to go there. It’s so cool that your home base allows for quick trips to Marfa. The rain has brought so many plants back to life after the drought.

    Oh, that lone agave against the wall in the background makes the picture.

    What surprised me: all the grasses there that didn’t die that died out here in the drought. You would enjoy it, including one of the Chinati tours…reservations a must, and little is open Sun-Wed…and loads of visitors Th-Sat.


  4. Everything was in bloom! Is that predictable for there this time of year or has something extraordinary triggered them all?

    A bit of a glance is better than none. I’m looking forward to more.

    It appears that your area had so much rain, you shared it. Only one day hit 90, too…then there’s El Paso…hot! You will like what follows…


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