Chinati Open House: Time and Place, Marfa 2010

Much ado about minimalism in rural Marfa, Texas during the Chinati Foundations annual weekend October 8-10 – and still more on how time and place concerns continue as art currency. There was much ado about minimalism in rural Marfa, Texas during the Chinati Foundations annual weekend October 8-10.

The sprawling contemporary art museum, which occupies 340 acres of land, two former artillery sheds and six army barracks on the site of former Fort Davis DA Russell, was filled with visitors from around the globe. Much of the weekend was dedicated to the Foundations director of sixteen years, Dr. Marianne Stockebrand, who will retire in January. Stockebrand was the close friend and love of Chinatis founder: minimalist powerhouse Donald Judd – who wrote, in the Foundation catalog “a strict measure must exist for art of this time and place.”

Stockebrand was appointed director of the Foundation just months before Judds diagnosis with cancer in 1993. A morass of protracted legal issues, a paltry few hundred dollars and close to 100 large-scale sculptures sitting out in the Chihuahuan desert were virtually all that was left when Judd died in 1994.

The weekends extensive programming was a testament to what Stockebrand and assistant director Rob Weiner, both of whom have worked for times without pay, have built up in the middle of nowhere, improbably. Or so it seemed in 1996, when the final plans for the Dan Flavin installation were completed, and national media slowly roused to Marfa as minimalisms stark-contoured place.  (In 2005  the New York Times gave us Marfa as a “second-home” destination for New York or L.A. art nuns and their rogues.  But one is just as likely to see the literati from Austin in the Marfa Book Company or eating at Cochineal.)

The robust schedule of the 2010 Chinati Weekend also included an introduction to new Chinati Foundation director, Dr. Thomas Kellein – just formerly director of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Bielefeld, Germany.

Kellein got his Ph.D. at University of Hamburg in 1982 and met Judd in  Marfa in 1990. In February 2009 he curated at Bielefeld,  1968: The Great Innocents, propounding the  “friendly” disruption in works by Fluxus artists Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, Lawrence Wiener and Judd, as they took “a new measure of the world.”

Befitting a relationship of new measures to old, on Friday October, 8 a good-bye and benefit dinner in honor of Stockebrand at the Chinati Arena (a former horse arena) began the weekend. The dinner included performances by members of the Dallas Opera – and a preview of Carl Andres new sculpture permanent to a courtyard, which joins his installation of concrete poetry, Cuts into Space — long a part of the collection. Underscoring Andres place at Chinati were back-to-back talks on his work, at Marfas historic Crowley Theater on Saturday afternoon, October 9.

In “Carl Andre Place Matters”  independent curator Eva Meyer-Hermann, a minimalist art historian, described the spatially and temporally attuned nature of Andres work with regard to where it was created. She also spoke to the challenges of mounting Andres work “out of place,” where he never intended it to be exhibited.

One of the Chinati Foundations greatest strengths lies in its ability to balance allegiance to Judds minimalist intentions and the practices of an array of international contemporary artists – in essence, the continuing of the vitality of “time and place” approaches.

There were shows by performer John Kelly, contemporary photographer Zoe Leonard and Chinatis current artist-in-residence Marc Ganzglass.  The dynamism of each was compounded by their settings.

New York artist, Zoe Leonard, performed her first spoken word recital at the Crowley Theater Sunday morning. Leonard read an arrangement of words from the Niagara Falls postcards featured in her show You See I Am Here After All, currently on view at the Dia: Beacon (through Jan. 9, 2011). For the performance, the retractable door behind the stage was opened, revealing a view of Marfas iconic Godbold feed mill. The work explores the sublimity in nature tourism, a subject that was literally visible, in back of the artist.

Ganzglasss Transmission Tower Time also spanned two of Marfas stalwart buildings, the old Locker Plant and the old Ice Plant. In the Locker Plants maze of thick-walled rooms, Ganzglass installed three video projections and multimedia sculptures. One video each to a room, the projections included footage of a bubble producing a single photon, from the Niehls-Bohr Institute in Copenhagen; Ganzglass family members dousing for electro-magnetic fields in Copenhagen; and a section of a new windmill on a train bed in Marfa.

In the Locker Plants last room, two radio towers constructed by Ganzglass lie horizontally on the floor, one upheld by two-ton supports. Adjacent to the towers is a table with a pellet gun, which corresponds to the target at the other end of the room.

Down the street in the darkened Ice Plant, neon blue lights emanating from underneath a silver 2010 Mercedes sedan blinked in time to the musical styling of free jazz composer Albert Eyler. It was a fantastic site – the slickness of the Mercedes created a deep contrast with the vast and crumbling Ice Plant. Transmission Tower Time offered a nuanced and highly personal meditation on sub-straights, form and the mystery behind science.

These new works, ephemeral but potent,  held a  long note to  the glories of Chinatis destination permanent collection including site-specific works by artists such as Roni Horn, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg, David Rabinowitch . And, of course, the Dan Flavin large-scale work of fluorescents – one of Stockebrands great achievements, was inaugurated in 2000.

As you walked the paths between the buildings you could not of course help but nod silently to Donald Judd – especially through the experience of entering an artillery shed and walking among his 100 Aluminum Boxes  – sculpture scrims and engines driving the kinesthetics  of minimalism. While Marfa, with its vast open spaces, its mystery lights, and its steady influx of celebrity,  continued to sit still.

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