Marfa, Texas is an iconic town, a cultural stronghold of vitality and vision. Thanks to the artist, Donald Judd, the small desert city in west Texas is known as an arts hub. The Chinati Foundation, founded by Judd, displays huge indoor and outdoor installations on an old army base. The Ballroom Marfa Arts Center hosts exhibitions, concerts and the Marfa Myths cultural festival. Outside the town, a viewing platform from which the mysterious orbs known as the “Marfa Lights” is a phenomenon worth experiencing.
Unlike other towns that have tried to reinvent themselves as art destinations, Marfa is a town that grew organically. It all started when the acclaimed minimalist artist left New York City in the 1970s for this dusty dot of a town. He wanted to escape an art scene that he claimed to disdain. With the help of the DIA Foundation, Judd acquired an entire Army base, and before he died in 1994, he filled it with art, including light installations by Dan Flavin and Judd’s own signature boxes. Ironically, now this once tiny town perched on the high plains of the Chihuahua desert is nothing less than an art world station of the cross, like Art Basel in Miami, or Documenta in Germany.
The most recent addition is a reflection of the renewed awareness and appreciation, triggered by the pandemic, for the outdoors, for nature and for the environment. “The Agave Garden is a space for the community of Marfa and a celebration of the biodiversity of our region,” said Rainer Judd, President of Judd Foundation. “Don(ald Judd) wrote, ‘my first and largest interest is my relation to the natural world, all of it, all the way out.’ This thinking is central to the work of the Judd Foundation and supports Judd’s interest in the region and his commitment to the city of Marfa. The garden is open to the public and incorporates Donald Judd Furniture into the setting.
THE AGAVE GARDEN
The garden was designed and planted in partnership with Jim Martinez, principle of a Marfa landscape design company that specializes in native plants of Texas and the Southwest. Martinez selected more than twenty agave species native to the Trans-Pecos region including: Agave ferox (Giant Agave), Agave havardiana (Harvard Agave), Agave lechuguilla (Chihuahua Agave), Agave parryi neomexicana (New Mexico Agave), Agave parryi truncata (Artichoke Agave), Agave ovatifolia (Whale’s Tongue Agave), and Agave victoria reginae (Queen Victoria Agave).
The selection of the agave species was based on those local to the Chihuahuan Desert that have had historical use for food, beverage, fiber, cultural ceremony, and beauty for the indigenous tribes of the surrounding regions. Martinez also considered the evolution of the agave species as well as their use and importance to the insects, birds, and mammals.
The garden is situated outside of the Cobb House, Whyte Building, and Gatehouse, three buildings on five and a half lots of property purchased by Donald Judd in 1989. Judd intended that these three buildings and the neighboring structures, which house his Art Studio and Architecture Studio, to be united as a complex enclosed by an adobe wall that was to run the length of Oak Street. The two benches installed in the garden were originally designed by Judd for his residence in Marfa. The benches are intended to provide a contemplative place for visitors to spend time in the garden.
THE CHINATI FOUNDATION
“Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again.” So wrote American minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, founder of the Chinati Foundation. Located on a 340-acre tract of desert land that includes abandoned US Army buildings, Chinati is a contemporary art museum that embodies Judd’s belief that art and the surrounding landscape are inextricably linked. It opened in 1986 with the specific intention to present permanent large-scale installations by a limited number of artists, including Judd himself. Each artist has work installed in a separate building on the museum’s grounds, while temporary exhibitions showcase modern and contemporary work in diverse media. The collection includes iconic examples of the work of Carl Andre, John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Roni Horn and Robert Irwin and a limited number of other artists who share Judd’s sensibility.