Part 8 from the road trip series “The West Texas Idea”
The majority of our time in this area was spent at the town of Marfa. I’m sad to say, after all the build up about what a funky little art town it is, I was disappointed. I really hate saying negative things on my blog, especially since there’s the possibility that my page will show up in someone’s Google search. But I just didn’t enjoy Marfa the way I had expected. It seemed to me like a quirky little town with a lot of potential that has been overrun by pretentious posers from out of town or state.
Maybe it felt that way because we were there on the weekend of the Chinati Foundation’s annual open house and visitors had flown in from around the country (hence our need to stay at the Antelope Lodge in Alpine, the only hotel with rooms available in any of the three nearby towns). Seeing the installations at the Chinati Foundation, founder Donald Judd’s work in particular, was part of the draw to Marfa for us, too. But too many of the people we ran into at the exhibit and the one coffee shop in town just screamed “Manhattan!!!” in their dress and manners, and it came as a shock to the system when we were expecting friendly hippies or down-to-earth Texas artist types.
First, let me say that I love Manhattan—I just wasn’t expecting Manhattan on this trip. Now, let me illustrate with a couple of examples of what I’m talking about.
After picking up my drink at the counter in the coffee shop, wallet in my other hand, I managed to drop all my change on the floor. There were four people in line behind me—a skinny lady in black tights and a string bikini top with her boobs hanging out from the front and sides, a skinny guy wearing skinny black jeans and black boots that came to a skinny point at the toe, and two other people who were, I’m sure, wearing something equally skinny and ridiculous for Texas. While I got down on my hands and knees to pick up my change from under their feet, hands full with my drink and wallet, all four of them stepped around me to get closer to the counter and put in their order. Skinny Fake Cowboy, let me tell you, first rule of being in Texas, of being a cowboy, of being a man anywhere in the world, is help the girl crawling on the floor before you order your skinny vanilla latte.
For lunch we found a wine bar that, unlike the places in Alpine, actually serves food. After taking our order, the waitress attempted small talk and asked, in reference to the fact that it was Chinati Weekend, “So, did you go to any good parties last night?”
“We just got to town last night,” was our answer. I regret not coming up with the better answer until later: “Yeah, we went to this really kickin’ star party at the observatory. You should have been there—the astronomer who gave the lecture about constellations was totally legit.”
When the waitress brought out our lunch, Jen made an attempt at further small talk in an effort to find out more about what was going on in this town. “So what party did you go to last night?”
“There aren’t any parties going on,” she said. “Not that many people at Chinati Weekend this year. The economy, you know.”
I thought, Well then why on earth did you ask us about parties, knowing full well nothing was going on in Marfa last night? Maybe she couldn’t think of anything else to say, maybe she wanted to make us feel like the not-cool kids who didn’t know how to find good parties, maybe she thought we looked so uber cool that we knew something about the local scene that she didn’t know. Probably not the last one. Probably a combination of the first two.
Sadly, with the exception of Donald Judd’s own work, the installations we saw at the Chinati Foundation didn’t help matters. But Judd’s 100 untitled works of mill aluminum were fascinating to walk through. The light reflected off each aluminum box differently, though all are made of the same material. Some appeared shiny and metallic, others reflected the yellow grass from the field outside as perfectly as a mirror. The shadows along the space between the boxes formed lines pleasing to the eye, and I wish we could have stayed longer in the day to see how the whole scene changed as the sun moved in the sky.
But the rest of the contemporary art pieces and poems on display at the open house just didn’t make sense to me. I don’t think that disqualifies it from being called art—I know that the artists put their hard work, skill, passion, and creativity into making the work we saw. It’s just not for me. I prefer art with meaning and beauty, not works that are nonsensical or purposefully unattractive.
I guess the people we ran across in Marfa gave me a similar vibe. Maybe I didn’t talk to enough people or the right people. But I was disappointed that it seemed like people were more concerned with being cool or giving off an artistic aura than with just being themselves. Like intentionally trying to be the weirdest, quirkiest, most different-from-everyone-else person in town was more important than expressing oneself naturally. Like outsiders are trying to make Marfa into something other than what it began as and are completely missing the point.
NEXT in The West Texas Idea