Judd and Marfa: Carving Out a Piece of the Big Sky
Our first night in Marfa, in hushed, conspiratorial tones, Nico and I began to plot ways to stay in town long after the group had left. We walked across town as the soft blue twilight reflected of the train tracks, discussing what we might do if we lived there over the summer. I was captured by the sense of sheer space and openness that seemed to permeate every physical aspect of Marfa. I felt giddy, perhaps because I was no longer trapped in the back of the SUV. I felt electrified by my first encounter with the town. Every open business we passed was filled with attractive young people. The bookstore beckoned us- a brightly lit utopia. In a fever on feeling connected to the universe, I bought a book about the hummingbirds of North America. It seemed terribly important at the time.
The following days served to greatly complicate my initial sense of euphoric connection with the town and the pleasant, passionate people it seemed to lure in. Over the course of the Judd Foundation tour, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I began to feel troubled by Judd’s (omni)presence in Marfa. I found myself so intrigued by the way he mandated his studio spaces be left, enjoying the challenge such an act places on the divide between art and life. Yet upon further consideration, I was hit by the sheer depth of the self importance necessary to declare in one’s will that massive properties remain untouched.
Throughout that day in particular, and throughout the rest of the trip, I began to find Judd’s entire project increasingly problematic in many ways. The act of the big city artist moving to the small town to escape the corruption of the urban art scene is indeed romantic. But Judd brought so much of the big city with him, in his art and in his interactions with the people of Marfa. The idea that as a wealthy urban dwelling man, he could descend on a town in Texas and simply begin buying up property for the sake of liberating his art is incredibly indicative of his own privilege.
I additionally struggled to understand conflicting information about Judd’s personality. Many people we spoke to in Marfa commented repeatedly on how soft spoken Judd was. Yet the ego he must have had on him is omnipresent in the Judd Foundation properties (not to mention our tour guide’s description of Judd as a “great lover”). I attempted to gain clarity in asking more information of Rob from the Chinati Foundaiton, as he had enjoyed much personal contact with Judd. Yet my question was rather perplexingly brushed aside and remained entirely unanswered. We discussed this choice as a group at different moments throughout the trip. I found my interactions with Professor Hamill to be particularly helpful in attempting to understand Rob’s apparent protectiveness over Judd’s personal information. He seemed very interested in presenting Judd the artist, not so much Judd the person. Perhaps he would argue they did not exist separately from one another, particularly not in Marfa. Or perhaps he would assert quite the opposite- that Judd the person did not interact with his art in the same way as Judd the artist. I am of the mind that personality and personal history are fascinating and almost necessary factors in exploring art produced by any artist; I believe that it remains one of the greatest determinants of style and direction.
Given my own ecstatic encounter with Marfa our first night, I can understand Judd’s attraction to the place. Something about the space does encourage you to plan, to dream, to think about how you might yourself fit into the space. But that is exactly what is problematic about his/my experience of the town. The interpretation of the landscape as ripe for development in any way indicates a fundamental hierarchy, in which you exist somehow above the town. YOU have seen more and therefore have your special way in which you’re going to interact with the history and the people. The town today flourishes because of these assumptions, and yet remains entirely trapped by them.