We Stand in Awe

In White Sands.

Like a mirage, dazzling white sand dunes shimmer in the tucked-way Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico. They shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, covering 275 square miles—the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. White Sands National Monument preserves more than half of this oasis, its shallow water supply, and the plants and animals living here.

The sand feels like satin and is surprisingly cool to the touch, even on a hot summer day. Gypsum does not absorb heat.

When it rains, it dissolves in water and flows down on the basin floor where it stays until it dries up and becomes sand forming the dunes that surround us, in a perpetual cycle.

We simply stand in awe as this divine natural beauty unfolds before our eyes.

(In stark contrast to the destructive powers prevalent in the adjacent military site; the White Sands Missile Range.)

Good to know: apart from unexpected closures due to weather conditions, the park may also be inaccessible due to missile testing! Because of the adjacent White Sands Missile Range, the road is occasionally closed for safety and closures can last up to three hours. U.S. Highway 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces is also closed during times of missile testing.

Please always consult the park closure web page  before visiting, to confirm access.

White Sands National Park, NM
(formely a “National Monument”, it transitioned to a “National Park” in 2019)

October 11th, 2018

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

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 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

Fallingwater || The Masterpiece

It is said that Fallingwater is the most beautiful house in the world. Blending in yet somehow managing to stand out, it certainly is one of the most unique structures we have ever seen and, from all Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, the one I would love to live in (if I could afford the millions necessary for its preservation).

Fallingwater was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2019.

September 3rd, 2018

Kentuck Knob || The Grounds

No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other. – Frank Lloyd Wright

Thus Kentuck Knob was born of sandstone and tidewater red cypress, out of the side of the hill, being one with the hill, belonging to it.

We did not see the interior, building our anticipation and excitement for our upcoming tour of Fallingwater. But the surrounding woodland can be visited at any time during opening hours, no booking slot required (a pass must be bought at the visitor’s centre). It offers a walking trail through a large collection of sculptures adorning the grounds.

And the views over the surrounding hills are simply breathtaking. You can tell by my little ”Sound of Music” moment.

Troilus (1999) by Wendy Taylor – Bronze


Three Right Angles (1992) by George Rickey – Aluminium


Room (1992) by Andy Goldsworthy – Field Stone


Berlin Wall Section & Butterfly


Untitled (1950-) by Michael Warren – Irish Oak and Welded Steel


De-Creation (First Version) by Michael Warren – Irish Oak


Jute (1990) by Nicola Hicks – Bronze


Kentuck Knob, by Frank Lloyd Wright

September 2nd, 2018