Giant concrete boxes glimmer on the horizon, set against the backdrop of rows of converted artillery sheds and a stark, blindingly beige desert landscape so vast it nearly swallows the red-rock mountains in the distance—no, you’re not in some weird, surrealist dream a la David Lynch; you’re at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.
The History of Chinati
In case you hadn’t heard, Marfa has become something of a modern art mecca as of late. Every year, thousands of artists, gallery owners, art aficionados, and hipster travelers flock to this dusty, drowsy West Texas town to make art, look at art, and soak up the wildly eccentric vibes. So why has this tiny town of roughly 2,500 people become such a big deal in the Art World? We have two words for you: Donald. Judd.
One of the most well-known American minimalist artists, Judd stumbled upon Marfa in the early 1970s, as he scoured the countryside looking for the right place to relocate and establish a permanent collection for his work. Fascinated by the town’s empty land and open space, Judd would go on to spend the next 22 years creating his vision of an artistic utopia in Marfa, funding artists’ residences, opening galleries, and exhibiting his work. Most notably, he purchased 340 acres just outside of town, including the abandoned U.S. Army Fort D.A. Russell, in 1979—and the Chinati Foundation was born.
Officially opened to the public in 1986, the Chinati Foundation is now an independent, non-profit museum that features works by Judd, Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, and several other esteemed artists. Open to the public year-round, Chinati also hosts major events throughout the year.
What to Expect at the Chinati Foundation
At the Chinati Foundation, minimalist modern art meets wide-open West Texas skies and desert. The museum’s permanent collection includes Judd’s 15 concrete works outdoors (the boxes mentioned above) and 100 aluminum pieces housed in two converted artillery sheds. In addition to Judd’s work, you’ll also see Dan Flavin’s (very cool) installation of colored fluorescent lights in six former barracks buildings, while John Chamberlain’s work is housed in a renovated warehouse in downtown Marfa. Temporary exhibitions showcase modern and contemporary work in diverse media.
How to Visit
The Chinati Foundation draws visitors from all over the world. Many come to take part in the museum’s biggest event, their annual Open House, a free weekend of art, music, talks, and meals that attracts an international audience of approximately 2,000 visitors. At other times of the year, visitors must take guided tours to view most of the collection, though the outdoor works by Judd and Robert Irwin, as well as Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, are available for self-guided viewing.
Tour reservations are strongly encouraged, as space is limited. There are two tour options: The full collection tour is $25 for adults and $10 for students and includes a guided viewing of the entire Chinati collection as well as their annual special exhibit. The selections tour is $20 and $10 for students and consists of a guided viewing of the original artists of Chinati: Judd, Flavin, Chamberlain, and Irwin. All tours are free to Chinati members, children under the age of 17, and residents of Brewster, Presidio, and Jeff Davis counties, though you should still plan to reserve a spot in advance.
The Chinati Foundation is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., year-round.
How to Get There
The Chinati Foundation sits at 1 Cavalry Row, on the edge of Marfa, Texas. Once you’ve arrived in Marfa, turn left at the blinking red light. From there, travel ½ mile and turn right at the Chinati Foundation sign. Follow this road, which curves to the left and up a hill; the foundation is on top of the hill.
Tips for Visiting Chinati
If you plan on touring the whole collection, bring plenty of water and comfy walking shoes, as it can take the better part of an entire day to see everything. For those doing the full collection tour, Chinati advises planning on around four hours of viewing time, with an hour or two-hour lunch break. Even if you don’t have time for a full tour, at least go check out Judd’s 15 outdoor works, which stand in stark contrast against the grassy plains and big sky and play with light and shadows under the beaming Texas sun.