When I was in graduate school at UT Austin years ago, I was constantly hearing about how awesome Marfa was for seeing art. It took nine years of living here for us to finally journey all the way out there to check it out.
Driving there all day on a Friday, it seemed like an unlikely place to see art, but having spent 99.99% of my time in Texas in the bigger cities it was great to finally see what other areas of this gigantic state look like. After arriving on Friday we drove out to the McDonald Observatory to see whatever stars and planets they could show us that night (we saw Saturn!), and it's just stunning what getting away from light pollution and experiencing true darkness will do for your view of the night sky.
On Saturday we took the full collection tour at the Chinati Foundation, which went from about 10:30am-4pm. What struck me the most about this experience was the site-specificity involved in this collection - there was an intentionality to the placement of THIS art in THIS space. Some of the pieces in the collection, especially those by Donald Judd, were not works that would normally resonate with me, but within the context of the space - the buildings in which they were permanently installed, the view of the desert that could be seen through the windows - they were arresting. This was most true, for me, of Judd's 100 untitled works in milled aluminum. I sat on the floor of that room looking out at the desert through the sculptures, enjoying how it reflected in the aluminum, how the light coming through the windows affected the pieces. Had I been looking at these pieces in another gallery, I'm not sure I would have lingered as much.
The highlight for me was the Dan Flavin installation, which covered six separate buildings. Travis and I went from one building to the next, exploring the hallways and frequently being surprised by what we found in each (despite the fact that they were nearly identical). Upon entering each building, you would see two hallways branching off at the end of the room, with a different colored light washing the walls of each hallway. Approaching the hallways, you could look down to see the source of that colored light, and there were times when we were both actually surprised - in that Christmas morning kind of way - by what we saw.
I also loved the immersive installation School No. 6 by Ilya Kabakov. This was probably helped by my current interest in the immersive theater phenomenon (and my love of "Sleep No More"). I love walking through a space, multiple rooms, where there is a narrative to discover. I love having to figure it out, and I love never being sure that I have figured it out because the entire story hasn't been told to me overtly.
By the end of the tour, my brain was full. I couldn't handle any more art. This was unfortunate because one of the final stops on the tour was a display of poetry by Carl Andre, and I couldn't do anything more than look blankly at the poems and acknowledge that they were EXACTLY something that would fascinate me, but mentally I was out of disk space. Looking at them I wondered if Mark Z. Danielewski had seen these, or something similar, when writing House of Leaves. The Chinati Foundation should offer a backwards version of this tour so that the pieces seen at the end can be better appreciated by people who have not been walking through the desert, bombarded by art, for hours.
Of course we couldn't go all the way to Marfa without the visit to Prada Marfa...