I thought that I knew what to expect when we went into the first building at the Chinati Foundation to see Donald Judd’s aluminum box installation. There were half a dozen of us, along with our guide, Amelia, an art student from San Antonio. I’m familiar with some of Judd's other work from museums, and I’ve seen pictures of this particular setting. Pictures don’t come close. It’s not about aluminum, it’s not about repetition. It’s about light and space and endless variation. For the first time I really understood the affinity that Judd had for the neon sculptures of his friend Dan Flavin. Judd was using the aluminum boxes to sculpt with light, just as Flavin was doing the same with light directly.
The sides of the buildings are floor to roof glass, so the spaces are flooded with natural light (and on a sunny July day here in far west Texas, that is a lot of light!), and the reflections pick up all the variations of color from the landscape surrounding us. To be immersed in that space is to be in a spiritual realm, contemplative, remote from day-to-day concerns, and yet very much a part of this world (just outside a pair of rabbits playing, and a little further out a family of deer -- the three fauns prancing around some of Judd's concrete installations in high spirits, while from time to time one of the adults nips at their heels). It was one of the most remarkable artistic experiences I’ve ever had.
Marfa itself is a kick. The main street leads from the highway three blocks up to the courthouse building, a wonderfully beautiful and ornate structure. My hotel, in all its 1930s grandeur, is on one side of the street, facing the old Palace Opera House on the other. In the lobby is a display dedicated to those exciting days when the cast of Giant hung out here while filming. Scattered about the town are a dozen art galleries – I walked into one and was treated to a dozen or so pieces from Andy Warhol’s Last Supper series – the last major work he completed before he died.
Tucked into an old corner gas station is the Pizza Foundation, where I had lunch – big slices of excellent pizza with a great Greek salad. Bring your own beer and wine.
The weather is better here than it was in Clarksdale, or my first couple of stops in Texas. Upper eighties instead of upper nineties, and much dryer, so walking slowly around town is much more tolerable than it was trying to move around a few days ago. The Chinati mountains in the distance are quite beautiful. An awareness of the great spaces around us pervades everything.
I can't quite get over the sense of quiet and calm. At the moment, I'm sitting in the Marfa Book Company with a glass of wine and a good wireless connection, watching the shadows slowly lengthen. Lucinda Williams sings softly in the background. I've done a little email -- the library is never far from my mind -- but mostly I'm trying to give my mind space to come to a stop, to take in the beauty of the vast landscape around me, to move very slowly and to pay close attention to everything that is here. The challenge is to be in this moment, and not constantly fretting about what needs to come next or what I don't have enough time to get to. So far, I'm doing a pretty good job.
This evening, dinner at Jett's Grill. A new novel to start reading. Tomorrow, the afternoon tour of the Chinati Foundation.