Courtyard Contrasts: Marfa Edition

During Chinati Weekend, we mortals have more freedom than usual to linger and even roam among Donald Judd’s and others’ site-specific installations.

Including taking exterior photos.

In my case, most exterior photos involve the play of light on plants. There’s much light at lat 30N / 4,700′ elev. Several buildings’ courtyards caught my eye.


Chaste Tree, and native grasses like Little Bluestem, Dropseed, …



Mexican Plum trees planted by former military troops in these former barracks, grow in a few of the courtyards, along with native grasses like Little Bluestem, Beardgrass, Arizona Cottontop, and Blue Grama.



This was in front of an installation to replicate a Communist-block Era schoolhouse in Russia.


Ironically for that installation, Marfa also has Russian native plants but as invasive species, including Siberian Elm and Tumbleweed. That’s that ugly-messy look favored by the shrinking anti-design or native plant-phobe faction in Albuquerque. (my former nemesis, The Dark Side or H.O.G.)


Great pattern but not one plant. I lie somewhere between maximalism / cram-it design and minimalism / heatscaping. This still works given what’s inside.



Only an assortment of native and invasive grasses in one of the Dan Flavin courtyards.



And now to Donald Judd’s own residence – one of them – La Mansana / The Block.


Barren with much gravel, though when you’re used to Manhattan, openness and blinding sun in winter is probably what you need. And with all his projects, Judd may have had something else planned here in Midtown Marfa. Judd Foundation staff added a sizeable vegetable garden

Remembering the elevation and latitude here, no further comment!

Same expansive courtyard, but off to the side is this strikingly simple pool and one of Judd’s favorite trees, a non-native cottonwood.


Hopefully once they die, there will be a suitable, upland replacement since this just isn’t a river valley with shallow groundwater that even native and still-short-lived cottonwoods crave with age.

Of course in the remote chance anyone from Judd reads this and then needlessly takes offense, they just might spite me and plant globe willows, aspens, or birches in their stead. So, shhhhh!


I really enjoyed seeing what happened courtyard-wise, by accident or by design and planting interventions. Each one I appreciate, plus it’s easy for me since I know my high desert plants well, though probably not as well as Renaissance-person Donald Judd knew his environmental installations, astronomy, mathematics, …

The flora was almost as interesting as all the spaces and installations they house, even Judd’s enviable library.


By the way, since I notice all things geography, an informal observation revealed this among visitors’ license plates and conversations:

  1. Texas
  2. New Mexico
  3. Arizona, Colorado (a very distant 3rd)
  4. California

And among the fine people I met, many knew of the existence of Las Cruces!