An Art Lover’s Guide to Marfa, Texas

 Giant Movie Tribute, photo credit Ron Rendon Instagram, @searcher9346
 Giant Movie Tribute, photo credit Ron Rendon Instagram, @searcher9346
 Giant Movie Tribute, photo credit Ron Rendon Instagram, @searcher9346

Marfa, Texas. For such a little town, it is kind of a big deal. If you plan to drive there, you will traverse through vast areas of wide-open spaces to reach the west Texas desert town, which is flanked by several mountain ranges. But once you arrive at your destination, you won’t regret it. Especially if you are visiting to experience the art, which we highly recommend.

 

Although its population is less than 2,000 people, Marfa has distinguished itself as one of the coolest little art hubs in the country. Besides being home to an eclectic mix of truly one-of-a-kind art venues and spaces, Marfa has a sense of mystique about it that has been drawing tourists by the plane and busloads (though it isn’t a simple commute, given its proximity to the nearest airport) for at least the last several decades. One source of intrigue is the Marfa Lights, a little-understood phenomenon for which unexplained balls of light flicker and float through the desert sky east of Marfa. There are several theories relating to their origin, though a definitive scientific explanation remains elusive.

During the 1970s, minimalist Donald Judd became the unofficial “founder” of what is today’s Marfa, the one for which tourism has surpassed ranching as the economic driver. Whether its current status is what he envisioned for the town, he played a significant role in its transformation from a once sleepy pitstop to a cool and highly sought-after vacation and art destination. Artist Judd hailed from New York but stumbled upon Marfa and was drawn to its energy, selecting it as the perfect home for his large-scale art installations. Previously an army installation (Fort DA Russell), Judd repurposed a series of military buildings to display art and sculptures, and thus was born the Chinati Foundation, the first on our list of places that we suggest you visit to view art.

1. Chinati Foundation

Judd established the Chinati Foundation as a creative space for his own sculptures and also invited other minimalist artists to show their works of art. Much of the art is outdoors, as it was this connection with art and nature that Judd so valued. The permanent collection includes 100 mil aluminum sculptures by Judd, all of the same dimensions and housed in the former army artillery sheds. He also produced 15 concrete pieces which are viewable on the exterior property at Chinati.100 Untitled Works in mil aluminum by Donald Judd, photo by sbmeaper1

Including Judd’s art, the permanent collection includes works by 13 artists and also features special exhibitions. In addition to their main site, some pieces are on display in various locations throughout the town of Marfa.

What to know if you go: Chinati offers guided tours of the works of Donald Judd as well as an outdoor self-guided walking tour. You can make reservations on their website.

1 Cavalry Row, Marfa, TX

https://chinati.org/

2. Ballroom Marfa

As the name suggests, this contemporary art museum is housed in what was formerly a 1920s era ballroom. Ballroom Marfa is a non-collecting art space, with changing exhibitions though many have been in place for several years at a time.

Ballroom Marfa facilitates a unique transcendental art experience at their “Stone Circle” outdoor installation. In 2018 the museum commissioned the stone circle configuration in the high desert grasslands east of Marfa. Artist Haroon Mirza created the sculptures which are solar-powered and for which embedded speakers can be musically activated as part of regular full moon celebrations.

 

Ballroom Marfa is also responsible for “Prada Marfa” which is a permanent land structure by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. The iconic structure replicates a Prada Boutique with products from their 2005 line, which is the year the structure was created. Although it is actually a short distance outside of the town, the much-photographed pseudo boutique has been Instagrammed so frequently that it seems to have acquired unofficial Marfa landmark status. A google image search of Marfa will flood your computer screen with thousands of “Prada Marfa” images.

View original art that portrays fashion at UGallery.comBeyonce at “Prada Marfa.” Source: Instagram

Fun random fact: Even Beyonce gets in on the prada marfa action

108 E San Antonio St, Marfa, TX

https://www.ballroommarfa.org/

3. Werrick Gallery

It’s not easy to research the Werrick Gallery. With no website, a limited social media presence, and varying hours of operation, you have to make a deliberate effort to experience the gallery, which features artist Werrick Armstrong’s imaginative and thought-provoking works.

Armstrong is considered an “outsider artist,” which is a badge he wears proudly. Not one to shy away from controversy, many of Armstrong’s two-dimensional and three-dimensional contemporary pieces make use of religious symbols in nonconventional ways.

Although hours of operation for the gallery can be hard to pinpoint, the locals recommend keeping an eye out for the “Open” sign outside the space.

100 E San Antonio St, Marfa, TX

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/werrickarmstrong/

4. New Star Grocery Art MuseumPhoto credit Ron Rendon Instagram, @searcher9346

Not unlike some other local establishments we’ve discussed, the New Star Grocery Art Museum doesn’t have much of an online presence. Websites-be-darned, New Star Grocery Art Museum is worth seeking out. It isn’t every day you encounter a grocery-store-slash-art-museum.

The museum features works that were part of the personal collection belonging to Lineaus Hooper Lorette, who passed away in March of 2020. Have you heard that commercial about the most interesting man in the world? This Lorette fellow would have given that guy a run for his money. Lorette was a self-described communist accountant with a side business making medicine balls, whose art collection includes eclectic pieces and intriguing artifacts. Lorette amassed an extraordinary variety of vintage mid-20th century lamps and Mao Zedong porcelain statues, which are just a sampling of the unique items you will find for sale at the museum.

Random interesting fact: We can’t find anything about the museum or the man who inspired it that isn’t interesting. Even his obituary tells a mesmerizing story summarizing a fascinating life.

301 W Dallas St, Marfa, TX

5. RULE Gallery

RULE Gallery has a location in Marfa and one in Denver. The Marfa gallery came about as the result of the original owner, Robin Rule’s love of the tiny town, which inspired members of her staff to set up a Marfa gallery space after she passed away. The gallery family views it as a retreat of sorts, and a break from the faster-paced Denver scene in favor of the somewhat more laid-back nature of the Marfa arts community.

The RULE Gallery’s in-house programming features artworks on behalf of emerging and mid-career artists, and also works with outside art institutions to facilitate exhibitions in non-traditional settings. Their shows include local artists in order to support regional creatives and their long-term careers.

204 E San Antonio St, Marfa, TX

https://rulegallery.com/

 

With its eclectic and unconventional vibe, Marfa is among the best places in Texas to see art. We hope this unofficial tour of the town has provided some useful tips for a potential visit. Not ready to make the trip? You can view original art works from the comfort of your couch on UGallery’s website.