Thursday, May 17, 2012

Very Large Array & Marfa, TX

New Mexico/TEXAS
April 7th – April 13
High and strange indeed, New Mexico is a NASA cowboy, Navajo artist who lives in an adobe. I will miss this wonderful strange place where the scientific future and the ancient past cross-pollinate in the land of enchantment.
As I head out, I take in the transformation of spring on the now blushing landscape. Shedding the mud color, everything is blooming rapidly into green, yellows, and reds with the distant mountains of purple. New Mexico is morphing into its other side from the monotone winter to every saturated hue on the color wheel.
Heard Space?
I launch American Bones road trip with one last stop in New Mexico, the Very Large Array, fondly known as the VLA… really. Apparently it has been in countless movies but “Contact” is the only one that comes to mind. As the world’s premier Radio Astronomy Observatory, it is listening to galactic noise - like black holes. It’s science architecture that eavesdrops on the Universe, our giant ears in an infinite cafĂ©.
Exiting the highway, one drives another 30 minutes till coming to an area where the satellite dishes start to appear. It’s as if they are all listening in one direction while one or two are distracted and face another direction. The landscape becomes surreal with these massive dishes in rows like an orchard of robots. They are on huge tracks and have the ability to move 360 degrees. Surprisingly you can walk right up to them and take in their epic proportions, as if you were in a pre 911-world. They remind me of Pixar’s animated desk lamp and seem “cute” with collared faces looking into space. They are inspiring as I can see their imagery as scientific illustrations in a silkscreen, a block print and in photographs.
Reflection From the Control Room Window
The VLA visitor center is dense with explanation and a little over the geek top in regards to discussions of computer capacity for the data crunching. The gift shop was not inspired either. This pains me to see lousy graphics on mugs, key chains and mouse pads as well as T Shirts and other unrelated knickknacks. This interest in gift shops will be a theme in the trip. I am compulsively analyzing the missed opportunities in imagery, graphics and the lack of local art in these places. I would love to change the fact that the manufacturing of American souvenirs is made in China. More on that topic later.

Diesel is wilting from the heat and is eager to get into the dark van and hold his muzzle to the window wind. We head south to the town, Truth or Consequences. Yes, it is named after the show, but it is known as Spa City for the hot springs and Branson's SpacePort America. Yes, you have to go to New Mexico to be a space tourist. I wonder if they have a gift shop...

Small and sweet, my favorite little restaurant is called Deli Belly. I have stopped here before and ate under the shade of a vine trellis. The food is locally made and wonderful. The proprietor gave me a heads up on Marfa TX. She made sure I knew about the Prada Store. A collaboration of German artists built a one room Prada store and stocked it with a few shoes and purses in the middle of the desert. I drove for another couple of hours and soon forgot about the store and thought about the heat. It’s the kind of heat that sandwiches you from above and from the sweltering ground. I see a building go past with an awning I swear said Prada. I stop and turn around on the spot. There is a door but it does not open. It has lights that go on at night but there is no one there. It's is 194 miles south of El Paso, close to the hostage taking town of Juarez, Mexico. There is nothing there.

A luxury store in the wilderness is a statement on perceptions of value; well that is my take away.
I love it and see grant funded art installed in the wilderness, as its own statement on value. Public art will be another theme in my travels.

It's time for the photo shoot, it is a luxury goods store after all.  I think I’m appropriately dressed in a little black dress with cowboy boots. Diesel lurks his lithe body around the store with his hound nose to the ground and Foxy has the right hue but still manages to ruin the neighborhood. My only company is the train going by about 100 yards away. The engineer blows his lonesome whistle as I wave and he responds with a luxurious long note.

Foxy Prada Brown
Diesel vs Prada

I'm Prada Myself
Now I will be late getting to my tour and there are no refunds for my “block tour” for ex New Yorker, architect and sculptor, Donald Judd’sStudio and living space. I get to town and no one is there at the Judd offices. He bought half the town, so it’s hard to know exactly which building is actually the right location. I go across to the hotel to get directions, and the man tells me where to go for the block tour. I meet a crowd of folks that that are standing outside these massive oak doors to the Judd compound. This beautiful woman says we have been waiting for you. I apologize profusely for being late and thank them for waiting for me. She is wearing hounds tooth gym shorts made of silk with a silk butterfly top. Her skin is cocoa and her black hair is thick wavy corkscrews down past her shoulders. She is dewy sweet and of Creole descent with super- model possibility. Her escort is this handsome African American man with cotton Capri pants, and sporting light blue espadrilles. The four other young people are all from New Orleans and are architectural students with an interest in Donald Judd’s life work. They gather around me with such eagerness that I’m taken back a bit. I look into their faces and ask,
 “Who is the guide?”
 “Why, you’re not?” Blurts out a young architect.

After we clear up the fact, I am not the tour guide, and all these folks have not been waiting for me, but for someone to open the gates. It dawns on me this is it, I have just driven 5 hours to get to this tour of the abode of an esteemed sculptor, installation artist and architect for nothing. I am crestfallen as its Sunday night and nothing else art related in town is open till Wednesday.
The beautiful Creole woman mentions the fact her friend told her to go to the bookstore in town, as Tim knows everyone. All agree that might be the best and only idea we have. Walking the three blocks in this tiny ranching town and I learn my new friend is BeyoncĂ©’s sister, Solange. Well, that explains the fabulous bone structure. We all pile into Tim’s bookstore and it is an uber hip architectural bookstore with thousands of ways I could spend my money. Here we are in a one-horse town, filled with ranchers, celebrities, architects and New Yorkers. Where I am I? True to his reputation, Tim puts a call in and we get a guide with keys to the massive oak doors and start our “Block Tour”.
Behind the cement block walls is a hundred feet of gravel interrupted by a perfect rectangle concrete pool on the left. Alongside the pool runs a custom-built picnic table fit for twenty under a modern trellis of vines. There are two huge warehouses on the right and directly across the span of gravel is a U shaped wall that runs along the outer wall but slopes down to throw the horizon off. Our guide tells us that Judd came here from New York to ensure that his sculptures and installations would be permanently installed and viewed exactly as he intended. Lucky for him, his reputation has enough pull to make Marfa a destination for the culturally literate and elite. So much so, you can eat a five star very expensive dinner at one of the many fine dining establishments in town. We tour his workshops and his living quarters (there are many, including the bank in town). He has a library in one of these warehouses and he seems to have so many interests that a Dewy Decimal System seems appropriate here. Every space has a wooden framed futon-like couch bed and it always faces the wall. He loved to entertain guests and these would be the guest rooms, cavernous spaces with steel, wood and books for company.
Looking Back to the Entrance of Donald Judd's Block Residence
We are not allowed to take pictures but I got one off looking back at the entrance and a view of his customized Jeep.
The environment he created reminds me of the Bay Area artist, David Ireland. Here, space, form, light and materials create an effect that can be dictated to conform to merging living working spaces. Judd started this project of living in and among his creations in the 60’s, and there are parts of his live/work spaces that are extremely contemporary today. We now value the open-air plan so much that our kitchens in our houses now conform to it. He truly lived in the refined air that surrounded and define his sculptures and architectural dalliances.
We wrap up the tour and thank our guide, who couldn’t stop staring at our in-house celebrity. He was a doll and I forgot his name but he lived only a block away from the “Block”.

I found myself later at “Planet Marfa” a sweet little local hangout outdoor bar. It had a sunken Tepee that held a crowd of drinkers. I ordered from the bar menu the chips/salsa and a hotdog. My waitress/owner and chef, looked like Andrew Wyeth’s lover and muse, Helga; she had long Germanic braids and she cooed over Diesel. Then Tom walked in, a huge white handlebar mustache, a bigger white cowboy hat and just wanted to drawl with a doll. Super sweet, he didn’t think much of the architect in town but he liked the movies that came through. Apparently Johnny Depp was in town, just in from New Mexico. Hope Johnny Depp and I's paths will cross again someday. Our Helga was dropping off oil lanterns as the light was fading, and I asked Tom if I could take his picture.
Marfa Rancher Tom
Tom was my only portrait I took in Marfa. I’m just getting the hang of this. Helga and Solange were a pleasure to meet and a missed opportunity. Talk about Foxy Prada Brown, Solange was it.
Headed out of town that night and slept at a truck stop. Crossing the Hill Country of Texas the next day, with a three-day stint in Austin.