Sunday, February 01, 2009

Marfa Marfa Marfa!

(image from

For my Top Chef post click here!

I'm taking the opportunity during viewing the amazingly violent, misogynistic, and bizarrely pro-crime Super Bowl commercials to write about what I did on my Martin Luther King holiday vacation.

Did I drive with my family to Walley World in an old station wagon with a dead woman in a rocking chair strapped to the roof?

Oh, so close, but no.

I went to Texas! My friend Nan is the director of the Forsyth Gallery at Texas A&M University in College Station and she invited me to judge submissions to a jurried show. So I flew to the George Bush airport in Houston, where she picked me up and drove me smack dab to middle of the state. On the way to the gallery, we passed the George Bush library and the crash site of that military helicopter that went down a few days before my trip.

For the show I looked through about 130 entries of paintings, sculpture, and decorative art pieces. Ultimately I chose what I liked but I tried not to make my selections based entirely on my personal taste. It was tough but I enjoyed it. I selected what would go into the show and then I selected my favorites for prizes.

So that was the work part of the trip. Then Nan and I spent the weekend driving across Texas to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere called Marfa. But first, we got boudin, which I had been wanting to try for years. Boudin is sausage made with meat and rice and now I can say I tried it. I can also say I will probably never try it again. I'm very sensitive to weird meat and this reminded me a little of haggis.

Marfa is a full day's drive from, well, basically from anywhere. I think the closest airport is three hours away so we just did the eight hour drive from College Station to Marfa, which is in Presidio County in south-west Texas, not too far from Mexico. It is hard to describe exactly how far into the middle of nowhere this place is. The landscape in Presidio County is really beautiful.

It was just getting dark when we rolled into Marfa. We actually forgot to bring directions to get to the hotel but the town was so small we just drove around a little until we found it. We stayed at the Hotel Paisano, which is one of the two hotels in town. The Paisano was built in the thirties and James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor stayed there while filming Giant. The hotel was very cool; it was recently remodeled but they preserved the historic details very well. Our room was actually two tiny rooms combined into one, which meant we had two tiny bathrooms. The bathrooms were completely original, which I thoroughly approve of but the plumbing did not work well.

(This was our actual room)

(Cute bathrooms)

We spent the entire next day on art tours. After breakfast at the hotel we drove over to the Chinati Foundation, which was started by the installation artist Donald Judd. The foundation takes up most of an old military base and it provides the kind of space for huge installations that you can't really get at art institutions in the city. The highlights of the first half of the tour were the giant buildings of Judd's boxes.

100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982-1986

"At the center of the Chinati Foundation's permanent collection are 100 untitled works in mill aluminum by Donald Judd installed in two former artillery sheds. The size and scale of the buildings determined the nature of the installation, and Judd adapted the buildings specifically for this purpose. He replaced derelict garage doors with long walls of continuous squared and quartered windows which flood the spaces with light. Judd also added a vaulted roof in galvanized iron on top of the original flat roof, thus doubling the buildings' height. The semi-circular ends of the roof vaults were to be made of glass.
Each of the 100 works has the same outer dimensions (41 x 51 x 72 inches), although the interior is unique in every piece. The Lippincott Company of Connecticut fabricated the works, which were installed over a four-year period from 1982 through 1986. Funding for the project was provided by the Dia Art Foundation."

After a good lunch at the Pizza Foundation we went back to the second half of the Chinati tour. The highlights of the second half of the tour were the Dan Flavin light installations taking up a group of old barracks buildings.

untitled (Marfa project), 1996.

"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."

Then we went on a tour of the home and library of Donald Judd, which is part of the Judd Foundation. The Judd Foundation is separate from the Chinati Foundation, even though they were both founded by Donald Judd. Anyway, the Judd Foundation tour was really worth it; It was in a compound where Judd lived and there were several large spaces with many examples of his early work. Fewer people know about the Judd Foundation so we practically had a private tour.

After our day of tours we went to find a restaurant called Cochineal, which we were told was excellent. We were not prepared for quite how excellent it was. Chef Toshi used to have a restaurant in New York and just moved to Marfa last year. It was an amazing fine dining experience. I had the Cahors, which is a red wine I hadn't heard of. Then, as an appetizer, I had the wood grilled marinated quail served on a crisp of polenta with mixed baby greens and lingonbery sauce. That was one of the best things I have ever eaten. For an entree I had the handmade fettuccine with long simmered spiced pork sausage and vegetable ragu. Honestly, the pasta was just OK but I didn't care because the appetizer was so delicious. For dessert I had Toshi's baked to order date pudding with warm rum caramel sauce. Fantastic! It was as good as any restaurant I've been to in New York but it was even more pleasant because it was such a surprise to find it in the middle of nowhere. And it was very reasonably priced: about $50 for three courses and a glass of wine.

After dinner we went looking for the famous Marfa lights, which are supposed to appear south of town. We sat in the car at the observation point and waited an hour but I don't think we saw them. We did see some weird flashes of light but that's not what they are supposed to look like. Some people say the lights appear almost every night, while other reports say they only appear ten times a year on average. Well, at least we tried.

We spent the next day driving back. One day driving, one day taking tours, one day driving back. That was a lot of driving but it was worth it. The day after that we drove back to Houston. My flight wasn't until 7:00 so we were able to spend the day going to museums.

Unfortunately, the Menil Collection is closed on Tuesdays but we were able to visit the Rothko Chapel next door and that was beautiful. Then we visited the Museum of Fine Arts, which didn't have any temporary shows up but has an impressive permanent collection.

(Rothko Chapel)

And that's what I did on my Martin Luther King holiday vacation! I highly recommend making the trip to Marfa at some time in your life. It's worth the trek!


mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

That sounds like a great adventure. If i ever get near Marfa, I will definitely explore. The appetizer sounded delicious. I am into loganberry lately. Cheers

Cliff O'Neill said...

But did you find Sandy Dennis, Cher and Karen Black in a small five and dime nearby?

eric3000 said...

Oh, Cliff, I think Eric tried to get me to watch that movie once. Oy.

wildflower38 said...

I'm glad you liked your trip to Texas. Did you purposely drive in the opposite direction of where I am? lol Corpus Christi has a little culture here...

eric3000 said...

p.s. This post also could have been called Mostly Marfa!

Well, Laura, I don't know if it was the loganberries but that dish was delicious!

Wildflower, I really liked Texas. Yeah, there is quite a bit of culture but it's pretty spread out! I bet Corpus Christi is nice, there on the coast.

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

ah it was lingonbery sauce in the appetizer, my mistake. I goofed. I guess I am into lingonberry lately, thanks to Ikea.

Jeb said...

Marfa rules!