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Marfa, Texas is the uberchic rural town that the art world loves to visit when venturing out of the urban jungle. Sprinkled amongst its boutique shops and quaint restaurants are some of America’s, and arguably the world’s, most impressive art destinations. Donald Judd’s not-so-little cement block outdoor and indoor installation was the driving force behind the Chinati Foundation’s support and exhibition of major public art projects and it artist-in-residence program. The interplay between Judd’s installations — shape line and volume — is mesmerizing and much like their Minimalist aesthetic, an in-person confrontation with his work defies description. It seems incongruous to have such a monumental artwork happen in such a out of the way place — and this is what put Marfa on the map so to speak. As a result, like-minded projects such as Elmgreen and Dragset’s “Prada Marfa” (2005) isolated on the side of the road some 37 miles outside of town has become another art visitor landmark. The 2005 Fall/Winter collection featured inside the shop still appears sexy and fresh despite the billows of dust that get thrown up at the shop with every passing truck.
The El Paso Museum of Art is a mix of classical, modern and contemporary art. This year the museum boasts an exhibition Magnificent Mexico: 20th Century Modern Masterworks. This exhibition, which is comprised of three separate exhibitions dealing with painting, drawing and Diego Rivera’s relationship to Cubism, originated at two different museums in Mexico City — and have been awkwardly brought together in El Paso under a new umbrella title. Although the exhibition features highlights of works by heavy hitters such as David Sequiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and a masterful and gorgeously dark painting by Alberto Gironella, the exhibition is sadly and badly installed, the accompanying wall texts semi-coherent and although a significant cross-section of artists are represented many of the examples of work are far from the claimed “masterworks.” Fifty-one artists and 91 artwork may be a notable statistic but it does not an impressive exhibition make.
A redeeming factor of the museum experience however is an exhibition in the museum lobby by Mexican-born El Paso-based contemporary artist Margarita Cabrera (the museum will be rotating her work in the lobby over the next year). It’s playful and cool, and her fabric and clay recreations of everyday and household objects smack of skillful craftsmanship and graceful innuendo. The objects she depicts are made by foreigners for US consumers. Expanding on this theme of labor the exhibition depicts a life-size tractor as a reference to the working agricultural community.
Last stop Las Vegas, which is not exactly a contemporary art hub. However there is something to be said for immense production capabilities of the city’s famous strip — and the mind boggles at what could be done if this kind of infrastructure could be placed in the hands of a artists like Matthew Barney, Jeppe Hein, Olafur Eliasson or Lang and Baumann (L/B).
Unfortunately the furthest the Las Vegas strip stretched to embrace contemporary art is to showcase an installation by an artist who is second on the list of artists I love to hate (closely behind Romero Britto who tops my list). Runner up Dale Chihuly’s large garish blown glass overhang graces the center ceiling of the monumental entrance-way of the Bellagio hotel — one of the more upscale and “tastefully” designed Las Vegas destinations. Its not that I don’t have undying respect for Chihuly’s immense skill at glass blowing or the fascinating possibilities of the medium of glass, however the work is inescapably decorative, aesthetically over-the-top … and not in an ironic way, which would make it quite cool. Without a sense of humor to embrace the “culture kitsch” that oozes out of every pore of Las Vegas, Chihuly’s off-pastel shades and inability to diversify his floral products means his “serious” installations just misses the mark. It’s like hanging Swarovski crystal decorations on a plastic Christmas tree and pretending it’s a luscious fur, and the result is that Chihuly’s Sistine ceiling looks like a mangled cluster of sickly foliage.
Donald Judd’s installation at the Cinnati Foundation and Elmgreen and Dragset’s “Prada Marfa” (2005) are permanently on view in and around Marfa, Texas. Magnificent Mexico: 20th Century Modern Masterworks is on view at the El Paso Museum of Art until May 27. Dale Chihuly’s installation is permanently on view at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas … lucky you.