We Listen to the Universe

High up in New Mexico, at an altitude of 6,969 ft (2,124 m), the Plains of San Agustin; the  centre of a basin, a dried-up bed created by a lake in the Pleistocene Epoch – a time that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago.

Amid this ancient, remote landscape, the Very Large Array. 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration, one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, reaching out, listening to the cosmos.

Your Humble Fabulist is still in awe.

The Rail System

The antennas are moved along the array arms by rail. Two giant transporters carry the antennas on 63 kilometres (39 miles) of double, standard gauge track. These transporters are specially designed to negotiate the 90 degree turns onto spurs at each antenna station. A fleet of special purpose rail vehicles is used for servicing and repairing antennas.

Weak radio waves from celestial sources are collected by the highly directional antennas. The waves are focused into the receiver by the main dish, subreflector and feedhorns. The receiver is cooled to -427 degrees F (18 deg. K) to reduce the internally generated noise which otherwise would mask the very weak radio signals from space. These weak signals are amplified several million times, converted to an intermediate frequency and carried to the Control Building via a buried waveguide transmission system.

These giant antennas, with 25 metre (82 ft.) diametre dishes, were specially designed for the VLA. The aluminium panels of the dish are formed into a parabolic surface accurate to 0.5 millimetre (20 thousandths of an inch). Most of the time the antenna drive system is precisely tracking a radio source across the sky. Occasionally you will see the antenna rapidly slew from one radio source to another.

Antenna Assembly Building

During the VLA construction period, from 1975 to 1980, the antennas were assembled in this building. It now is used as a service facility. The transporters bring antennas in from the array for periodic maintenance and overhaul. Typically, each antenna is brought in once every 3 to 4 years.

Very Large Array

Socorro, NM

October 10th, 2018

The Train You Hear

Has long been the lifeblood for Marfa… but it no longer stops there. You can hear it coming in the middle of the night but it will only stop at Alpine, the next town about thirty minutes drive from Marfa. Alpine will be of no interest to art aficionados, other than finding more affordable accommodation during the Chinati Weekend when the crowds invade the tiny town and all of its 12 hotels; but we simply had to have a look at its quaint little train station and the much larger Big Bend Saddlery, where we shopped for hats, ties and the like (not saddles, no…)

Back in Marfa, we walked under the watchful eye of El Cosmico before returning to the town centre – where we came across a “No Parking” sign in perfect Greek… Only in Marfa!

And, finally, back to where we started; a full round. It was an unforgettable trip – and, yet, there was more to come!

Marfa, TX

October 08-09, 2018

The Judd Way of Life

Conceived by Judd in 1977 and created in 1996, the Judd Foundation maintains and preserves Donald Judd’s permanently installed living and working spaces, libraries, and archives in New York and Marfa, Texas. The Foundation promotes a wider understanding of Judd’s artistic legacy by providing access to these spaces and resources and by developing scholarly and educational programs.

Access is provided by way of guided tours offering a good look in Judd’s working and living spaces, his art, tools, books, his way of life. Photography is not permitted in any of the buildings. These are a few sneak pics I managed to smuggle from our tour at the Architecture Studio, the Art Studio, the Cobb House and the Block, Judd’s Marfa residence.

Marfa, TX

October 7th, 2018

Out of the Box

15 untitled works in concrete, 1980–1984

“The fifteen concrete works by Donald Judd that run along the border of Chinati’s property were the first works to be installed at the museum and were cast and assembled on the site over a four-year period, from 1980 through 1984. The individual units that comprise each work have the same measurements of 2.5 x 2.5 x 5 meters, and are made from concrete slabs that are each 25 centimeters thick. Funding for the project was provided by the Dia Art Foundation.”

Are they only fifteen…? One loses count after the first pair or three… It took us an hour to complete the walk; looking back, they stretch as far as the eye can see. And, despite their, well… concreteness, they seem lightweight, blending into the landscape as if they sprouted from the earth, growing organically, effortlessly, in their own time. Nowhere does there seem to be so fitting a place for these squares than here – Judd knew exactly what he was doing.

The Arena, 1980–1987

“The Arena was built in the 1930s as a gymnasium for the soldiers at Fort D.A. Russell. After the fort closed in 1946, the gym floor was torn up for the wood, and sand was laid to provide an indoor arena for horses. In the mid-1980s, Judd restored the building, which was largely dilapidated. Judd left the long strips of concrete that had originally supported the wooden floor, and filled the intervening spaces with gravel. For practical considerations, Judd poured a large concrete area by the kitchen at the south end, and a smaller area at the north end of the building’s interior. These two areas comprise half of the total area of the building. Judd also added a sleeping loft and designed the outer courtyard, which includes areas for eating, bathing, and a barbecue.”↓↓

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016

“In July 2016, the Chinati Foundation opened a new large-scale artwork by Robert Irwin. It is the only permanent, freestanding structure conceived and designed by Irwin as a total work of art.

Irwin had been developing and refining a design for the long-abandoned former army hospital site since 1999. Situated adjacent to the museum’s campus, the site was a C-shaped concrete structure, lined on all sides with a long sequence of windows that surrounded a central courtyard.

The building is formally divided in half, with one side dark, the other light. Inside, transparent scrim walls are stretched taut from floor to ceiling in black or white respectively, bisecting each long wing and capturing the always-changing natural light. The connecting corridor has a progression of scrim walls that sequentially cross and fill the space, with an enfilade of doors for passage.”↓↓

It has been one of the most rewarding, unforgettable ”museum walks” we could have ever hoped for. Not the most comfortable perhaps, as a large part of it involves field walking, with rattlesnakes and cacti being an integral part of the ecosystem, extra-ordinary nonetheless.

**

Dress appropriately: boots, long thick trousers and long sleeves will do the trick.
Beware of what you don’t see: some cacti have two kinds of thorns, those you see and can avoid touching but also those tiny, hair-like, invisible ones called glochids that will stick to your skin even if you don’t touch the cacti and will sting and itch for days. Worse yet, they will stick to the fabric of whatever you happen to be wearing and will only go away after a couple of machine washes.

The Chinati Foundation – Marfa, TX

October 7th, 2018

The Artist’s Den

I quite enjoy visiting an artist’s studio, there is something very charming and simultaneously voyeuristic about it. Going ”behind the scenes”, walking amidst art and creative clutter, the excitement of getting to see first-hand new works in progress, not to mention meeting the artists themselves.

If you time your trip to Marfa during the Chinati Weekend (which is actually a three-day event extending into Monday), you will find many artists opening their studios, which are also their homes, to the public.

Julie Speed Studio – Marfa, TX

October 6th, 2018

Relay with Riley

Getting things straight

Bridget Riley, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, 1983, as wall painting, Bolt of Colour, 2017

Riley’s first wall painting was made in response to a 1979 invitation from the Royal Liverpool Hospital to conceive a work for its walls. Riley devised a visual scheme featuring horizontal ribbons of color, running the lengths of the hospital corridors. The palette, like that of her paintings at the time, was inspired by a 1980 trip to the pyramids and tomb paintings of ancient Egypt. Of this color scheme Riley later wrote: “The Ancient Egyptians had a fixed palette. They used the same colors—turquoise, blue, red, yellow, green, black and white—for over 3,000 years….In each and every usage these colors appeared different but at the same time they united the appearance of the entire culture. Perhaps even more important, the precise shades of these colors had evolved under a brilliant North African light and consequently they seemed to embody the light and even reflect it back from the walls.”

Riley completed the design for the Royal Liverpool Hospital in 1983. In the years since, she has made many more wall paintings, including a work for two floors of St. Mary’s Hospital in London in 1987, with a third floor completed in 2014. In addition to these commissions, Riley has made wall drawings for numerous museum and gallery exhibitions and collections in the U.S., the U.K., and Europe.

Riley’s wall painting for Chinati will be the artist’s largest work to date and span six of the eight walls of the building. As referenced in the work’s title/description, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, 1983, as wall painting, Bolt of Colour, 2017, the mural revisits Riley’s Egyptian palette and establishes a continuity between the design for the Royal Liverpool Hospital and the new work for Chinati. It is inspired in part by similarities in size and spatial orientation in the sites of each project and affinities between the brilliant light and palette the artist witnessed in Egypt and the high desert landscape in which the Chinati Foundation is situated. [Source: Chinati Foundation]

The artwork was conceived specifically for the museum’s special exhibition building, encompassing it’s entire U-shaped enclosure. It was inaugurated in October 2017 and remained on view through 2019.

Chinati Foundation – Μarfa, ΤΧ

October 6th, 2018

Playin’ with Flavin

Dan Flavin’s large-scale work in colored fluorescent light for six buildings at the Chinati Foundation was initiated in the early 1980s, although the final plans were not completed until 1996. The work was inaugurated at the museum’s annual Open House in October 2000.

Two parallel tilted corridors are constructed at the connecting arms of each U-shaped building. These corridors contain light barriers that are placed either in the center or at the end of each corridor. The barriers consist of eight-foot-long fluorescent light fixtures, occupying the entire height and width of the corridor. The tubes are installed with space between them, allowing a view through the barrier. Each fixture holds two differently colored bulbs shining in opposite directions. The barriers in the six buildings utilize four colors: pink, green, yellow, and blue. The first two buildings use pink and green, the next two yellow and blue, and the last two buildings bring all four colors together. Two windows at the end of each long arm of the U allow daylight to enter the building and permit a view into the vast landscape – [source: The Chinati Foundation]

It is impossible not to be drawn into Flavin’s sculptures, like a fly attracted to light.

Dan Flavin
untitled (Marfa project), 1996

The Chinati Foundation – Marfa, TX

October 6th, 2018

The Chinati Foundation || Marfa

Marfa, a tiny and remote desert town of only about 2.000 people in West Texas, is the most unlikely  cultural centre for contemporary art I could think of. Yet, it is full of art galleries, cool shops that look like art galleries, cool artists that live and work in said art galleries, calling Marfa their home. And in the centre of it all is The Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati, a contemporary art museum founded by Donald Judd.

It was in the early 1970s when Judd decided he wanted out of New York and its art scene, too constrictive for his projects, and look for a place where his work could be installed and never be moved again. In other words, he needed space.

Judd rented a house in 1971 in Marfa, took one look around and bid farewell to New York forever. He began to purchase properties in 1973, which would include living quarters, studios and ranches where his work would be permanently installed, every move leading to the purchase of a 340 acres of land on the site of former Fort D.A. Russell, in 1978.

The Chinati Foundation opened to the public in 1987 as a museum hosting permanent collections of works by Donald Judd as well as by his friends, Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain (with 25 sculptures in a renovated wool warehouse in downtown Marfa). Judd later expanded the collection to include works by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Richard Long, Roni Horn, David Rabinowitch, Ilya Kabakov, and Ingólfur Arnarsson. Following Judd’s death in 1994, the museum completed additional projects: an installation of poems by Carl Andre (1995); a gallery of paintings by John Wesley (2004); and Robert Irwin’s untitled (dawn to dusk) (2016).

The Chinati Foundation is open year-round, but if you love mingling with the art crowd – or are fond of crowds in general – you may want to time your visit to coincide with the Chinati Weekend, an annual weekend-long event, the one time of year when all installations are open for self-guided viewing and the museum presents special exhibitions, talks, and performances, all free to the public.

Photography in the galleries is not permitted ”to preserve the quality of experience for all visitors”, but there is always a way to sneak-a-pic, as a keepsake. I was also fascinated by the character and monumental size of the buildings themselves, all which house permanent art installations. Needless to mention, we needed two days to see everything.

Marfa, TX

October 6th, 2018