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In the mountain desert of West Texas under a canopy of blue sky, the recent Marfa Invitational glittered with celebrity and down home fun, across the weekend of May 5-8, 2022. Family and friends gathered alongside strangers rapidly welcomed into the fold. Pretenses were dropped and stories told. The art was a central node and yet also part of a greater constellation. Attendees sensed the vision of the art fair’s founder, Marfa-based artist and curator Michael Phelan, who could be seen running around, chatting with everyone throughout the countless events of the busy weekend.
The Invitational was centrally located in an open-air event space and offered a wide spectrum of art presented by 11 international galleries. The interconnected beads delicately painted by Brazilian artist Fernanda Mello for her series Earth Constellations was a meditation related to a Brazilian shaman prophecy and beautifully presented by The Valley from Taos, New Mexico. James Barron Gallery was there from South Kent, England and showed the paintings of Italian artist Vera Girivi whose whimsical take on art historical masters sold out. The fanciful creatures and funny-faced monsters carved into pressurized volcanic lava, pink sandstone or tiger’s eye by Berlin-based Stefan Rinck delighted passersby of the LA and Brussels based Nino Mier Gallery, which hosted an event for artist Jan Ole-Schieman at their space in Marfa on Friday night.
Mischief was also present in the offering of Darren Flook, a London-based gallery that showed found-material sculptures by Charles Harlan; a crab trap atop a mirror with a cement pole through one side, was both amusing and remarkable, as people did, sitting down and asking the gallerist questions about the choice of materials and composition. Bill Powers of New York and LA’s Half Gallery showcased the paintings of Emma Stern, known for her use of gaming software to create luscious characters as models for her art. The paintings’s bubble gum and violet hues enhance the fantastic scenarios of this body of work, all of which focused on a mermaid lounging in various settings.
Will Cotton exhibited paintings produced from his inaugural Brite House residency that Yvonne Force Villareal established in 2021 to help more artists discover the wonders of Marfa. His images of pin-up cowboys and their female counterparts with pink unicorns were unexpectedly at home amid the magic of the exuberant weekend and people. Pink, evidently, was a recurring theme. Local cowgirls decked in hot pink kicked up the dust atop horses for Cynthia Rowley’s fashion show at The Mercantile Saloon, where attendees roamed the ranch and later enjoyed the music of Nashville performer Louis Prince.
The “Monuments” exhibition was an extension of the Invitational that showcased sculptures on a desert site just outside of town where the Invitational plans to open a year-round cultural center. There, the dust swirling around Stern's glossy white sculpture of a resplendent mermaid suddenly introduced concerns around the climate crisis. The site also hosts a permanent installation by Harlan: a vertical storage unit sliding gate isolated amidst the expanse of space. Carved into the locks is the word Hardened. The initially humorous impression is dispelled by the fact that the gate intentionally faces the Mexico border.
As discussed in the talk between the Invitational’s honoree Suzanne Deal Booth and the artist-actress Lacey Dorn, Texas is a land of contrasts. Despite low school funding for the arts, the state claims amazing arts foundations and museums. The two highlighted a long list of feisty Texas women to an enthralled audience. Women like Ma Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas (1925-27, 1933-35); Emma Tenuyaca, a labor organizer and civil rights activist; Ima Hogg, a philanthropist and mental health advocates, and mention of Houston-raised Beyoncé reminded audiences of the activism that is a part of Texas trail-blazing. The environmental efforts of Lady Bird Johnson, and the financial support provided to the Roe v. Wade legal team by Ruth McLean Bowman Bowers inspired Dorn’s own work because as she said, “If you can make at least one person feel less alone and isolated you are doing the job,” which was evident in her stunningly vulnerable performance, Anthropologists Anonymous, about the discordance between peppy social media posts and the life lived alongside them.
Bob Harris and Ted Flato of the architecture firm Lake Flato addressed their collaboration with Dan and Ashlee Perry in designing the ultra-modern, light-filled ranch house around a central courtyard, a veritable oasis amidst the Chihuahuan Desert. After a cocktail celebration recognizing their work, the architects were among those honored at the grand finale of Marfa Invitational, the acclaimed Visionaries dinner. From social gathering to outback adventures, art appeared everywhere. As the sun set over a hill even further out in the desert, artist Alicia Eggart independently premiered her green neon work You Are (On) a Mountain that she will be carrying on her trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.
Marfa may be best known for Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation or Ballroom Marfa’s Prada Store by artists Elmgreen & Dragset, but the town of fewer than two thousand people has a bustling art scene. There are more galleries and art spaces than anyone could see in one weekend, inspiring many to commit to future visits, and those, by all accounts, accumulate so that people find themselves settling, buying a home, and generating an ever-widening network for this little town and its art-loving audience.
Erick Calderon, cofounder with Jeff Davies of the gallery Art Blocks, has become a local and opened a physical space alongside the tremendous success of their online platform championing code-based art. As a part of the weekend of events, they displayed the light sculptor Leo Villareal’s stunning Cosmic Reef, a set of 1024 generative works that premiered as NFTs in January, and the emerging artist Cooper Jamieson’s remarkably subtle print works, based on his research into color fields and theoretical chemistry. This duet celebrates the town’s homegrown artists: Villareal’s great-great grandfather came to Marfa in the 1880s and the family ranch is still operational; Jamieson grew up working for many of the famous local artists before moving to Los Angeles. Speaking about the confluence of art and technology caused by the flurry of interest in NFTs, Villareal said: “We are all in it together. It’s about sharing information. There’s a real presence and community.” The same could be said of Marfa Invitational.