In 1971, the great American minimalist artist Donald Judd moved from New York City to a town in the Texas desert called Marfa. Judd’s arrival sparked a transformation, and over the decades Marfa has gone from desolate railroad water stop to an oasis for the arts. The town is extremely isolated and small — boasting less than two thousand residents — and yet people from all over the world make the pilgrimage regularly.
And those who have visited often try to explain the town’s unique energy, only to give up: “You just have to go yourself.” But Marfa is more than an off-the-beaten-path tourist destination, as there are scores of working artists who call it home. It’s residents like Joseph Coniff and his abstract minimalism, Zipora Fried and her psychedelic landscapes, Julie Speed and her surrealistic scenes, who give the town its identity. It’s the artists who have chosen the desert, shirking the cities where art generally thrives, that make it what it is.
In some ways, Marfa doesn’t make any sense — why does a cultural hub exist seven hours west of Dallas? — but maybe that’s part of the magic of it. Maybe that’s a bit of what attracted Donald Judd in the first place.
Photography: Harris Mizrahi for NeueJournal