Purple Magazine
— S/S 2010 issue 13

Marfa

photography by RITA ACKERMANN
text by JEFF RIAN

Marfa, West Texas, ZIP code 79843

Marfa is a small town of just over 2,000 people located in the desert not far, on the Texas scale, from the Mexican border. Founded as a railroad water stop in the 1880s, it’s now the seat of Presidio County. The town is named after Marfa Strogoff, a character in Jules Verne’s novel, Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar. Marfa is your typical Western town, but in recent years it has become an art destination. There’s the natural shimmering “Marfa Lights,” which on clear nights are visible in the Paisano Pass, leading southwest toward the Chinati Mountains, for one thing. But it’s Marfa’s connection to late-modern American art that attracts most visitors.

Fort D.A. Russell, an airfield, was established close to town during WWII, but it was later closed down. In 1971 the Minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to town and converted two of the airfield’s abandoned airplane hangars into studios. In 1979 the Dia art foundation assisted Judd in converting other Fort D.A. Russell buildings into an art center. Since Judd’s death in 1994 the center has expanded to form The Judd Foundation, which has Judd sculptures on permanent display, and The Chinati Foundation, which houses major works from historical artists such as Carl Andre, John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, John Wesley, and David Rabinowitch. The Chinati Foundation also offers artists living and working space.

Rita Ackermann’s pictures shown here reveal a seamier side of Marfa: the fringes of a small town giving into the kind of vastness that convinces many Americans to just stop and abandon their worn-out old cars — to just let them rot. Such dissipation has inspired artists like Richard Prince to make icons out of tires and car hoods. Many other artists have photographed the lives and lifestyles of those living on the edge of such vastness. These peripheral people often display a type of behavior that visitors to cultural centers might cast a dubious eye on. Marfa offers up a mix of two worlds, where art tourism meets cultural mess.

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S/S 2010 issue 13

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