The main reason for our trip to Marfa was to see Prada Marfa, an art installation in the middle of nowhere. Prada Marfa is actually located 35 miles outside of Marfa near the tiny town of Valentine. I had heard a bit ago that it was in danger of being torn down. Apparently, the big wigs of New Mexico have nothing better to do than contemplate whether a building in the middle of nowhere is art or advertising. Idiots. So when planning the road trip, I added a few days in Marfa just to see an art installation on a little two lane road. I’ll discuss Prada Marfa more in depth in its own dedicated blog post here.I was happy to discover there was more to Marfa than just a fake Prada store. A lot of art galleries, a couple of boutique hotels/motels/trailer parks, and good food, food, food. I suppose Marfa is to Austin, Texas as Palm Springs is to Los Angeles, CA, but minus the mid-century modern architecture and a lot more border patrol.Marfa might be one of my favorite stops on our trip. It was such a strange little town. Artsy and sometimes pretentious, but also rundown with crumbling buildings. I also couldn’t figure out if a storefront was a shop, art gallery, or restaurant based on the building or the name.
Here, try it and take your best guess. Answers below.
1. Ballroom Marfa (photo below).
2. Food Shark
3. The Get Go
6. Chinati Foundation
7. Buns and Roses
8. Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour
(Answers: 1. Art Gallery 2. Restaurant 3. Grocery Store 4. Restaurant 5. Shop 6. Art Gallery 7. Restaurant 8. Museum/Restaurant 9. Event Space)
We stayed at the Thunderbird Hotel, a boutique hotel owned by the same lady who owns the Hotel San Jose in Austin, TX. I would describe the rooms as dorms/jail cells with a mid-century modern make over. Everything was concrete, white, and industrial, with MCM chairs, a cowhide rug, and a saddle blanket on the bed. We loved it! The room included a small continental breakfast in the morning (yogurt, cereal, toast) located inside their (wait for it ….) art gallery/dining room. Yes. We ate breakfast in an art gallery.
After breakfast we set off for Prada Marfa. (Like I said, it deserves its own blog post, and I will eventually link to it here.) And after a long drive and a lot of photographs, I knew I had to get the Mister some food. We searched for the Food Shark food truck (the #1 reviewed “restaurant” in Marfa), but with no success we ended up at Pizza Foundation, which turned out to be quite the success. Luckily we got there just before it was due to open at 12:45 and we beat the massive lunch rush. The restaurant is located in an old gas station/mechanic shop and the pizza crust was divine! Instead of ordering a couple of slices, we just got an entire pepperoni pizza and Mexican cokes.After lunch, we drove over to the contemporary art museum, The Chinati Foundation, to view Donald Judd’s concrete blocks, titled 15 untitled works in concrete. You can read more about Donald Judd on ARTSY. TIPS: Wear sunscreen, bring water, watch out for the giant ants.
My opinion on the concrete blocks: they are fun for about 15 minutes, but in the hot sun, I grew tired very quickly. And after visiting Cadillac Ranch in Texas (the partially buried Cadillac art installation that you are allowed to climb and spray paint!) I realized how boring these concrete blocks are. You aren’t supposed to touch the blocks, and definitely NOT get in them. Whereas at Cadillac Ranch, you participate with the art installation and can stand on the cars and graffiti your heart out. I later found out that these concrete blocks were installed between 1980-1984 and they look brand new. I guess they look brand new because you aren’t allowed to do anything with them. But at the same time, how amazing would it be to be able to engage with them? Create a diorama, huge art piece on a blank canvas, but knowing it may only last an hour, or a week, before someone else comes along and creates their work of art within the block.
Remember how I called the town artsy and pretentious? Well, here’s the best example. After viewing the blocks, we went back to the office in order to get tickets to view Judd’s 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum. Well, I thought this might be 100 different pieces of untitled works of art located inside the aluminum mill. It was near closing time, so I asked the docent if 30 minutes would be enough time to view them. He seriously pondered this for a moment and gave some bullshit response of how some people spend 5 minutes and other people spend 5 hours. We walked down to the warehouse which houses the 100 Untitled works where I discovered that they are exactly like the concrete boxes, but smaller and made of … aluminum. 100 of them. Nearly all the same, just different patterns of aluminum boxes. Or as the website states, “Each of the 100 works has the same outer dimensions (41 x 51 x 72 inches), although the interior is unique in every piece.” Yes. Really. We walked through the TWO warehouses in 10 minutes. Actually, the coolest part of the 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum is the warehouses that house them. They are two former artillery sheds that used to employ German POWs. On one of the walls is a stenciled sign in German that states, “It is better to use your head than lose it.”We then checked out Ballroom Marfa, another art gallery located in town.And then we walked through the little downtown area with a couple of restaurants, shops, offices, the courthouse, pink fire station, and water tower.The heat and humidity started to wear on us, so we went back to the Thunderbird for a nap and luckily missed a huge thunderstorm that just POURED rain. After it passed, we went to dinner at Jett’s Grill located inside the Hotel Paisano. I had the spiciest burger ever.
And after dinner we drove out to the Marfa Lights Viewing Center located about 10 miles east of town. The Marfa Lights are an unexplained, mysterious phenomena which has been occurring since the 1800s. Some explanations are car lights, swamp gas, campfires, or even coyotes across the border. We did not see the lights (I think we went too late, we should have been there shortly after sunset), but we were treated to an amazing lightning show. I was also amazed at the community aspect to it. The place wasn’t crowded with people, but there were quite a few people there and we quickly became friends as everyone scanned the horizon for the mysterious lights. Oh! And there was the most amazing aluminum molded “hat” on the floor, near the trash, in the men’s restroom. TIP: Bring a jacket. It’s cold.