Tuesday, August 30, 2011

15 Seconds of (Anonymous) Fame

In the shameless-bragging-about-minor-joys department, I had won Andrew Sullivan's "View from Your Window" contest back in May. My prize was a copy of his "View from Your Window" book, published in 2009. The book contains photographs of places all around the world, taken from windows. The photographs are ordered by time, so they start with dawn and end with evening. Amazon now sells this little book, used, for an astonishing $102.98! A better deal is to get it directly from the publisher, Blurb, for $33.95.

All this is a prelude to my finding, when I sampled the book, that the 9:04 a.m. photograph was none other than the picture I'd submitted of the view from office window. So my work's been published, albeit anonymously. Here's the photo:Speaking of Blurb, you can now buy a large-format book with the blog entries from the Dispatch from Metz through this link: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2027500. The cost is $112.95.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Peeling paint, Chinati Foundation building

The Chinati Foundation

The main reason Susie and I traveled to Marfa was to visit the Chinati Foundation, the museum of large-scale modern art installations, founded by sculptor Donald Judd (1928-1994) in 1979. The foundation, named after the nearby Chinati Mountains, is housed on the site of the U.S. Army's former Fort D. A. Russell, which last saw military use in World War II as a camp for German prisoners of war. Judd, with help from the Dia Foundation, began buying the abandoned base, with its dilapidated buildings, in the late 1970s. Today the Foundation uses pretty much all the base's buildings for its permanent collection of modern art installations, with a couple of buildings for temporary exhibitions.
Extensive works by Donald Judd and Dan Flavin form the cornerstones of the collection. We viewed these works, and more by other artists, during an all-day pair of tours. The morning tour covered Judd, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, David Rabinowitch, John Chamberlain, and the Arena. The afternoon tour covered Flavin, John Wesley, Ingólfer Arnarsson, Roni Horn, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and Carl Andre.

Visitors see a major work by Judd as they arrive in Marfa from the south. This installation, "15 untitled works in concrete," 1980-1984, consists of groupings of large concrete boxes, around and between which visitors can walk.
The main attraction is Judd's "100 untitled works in mill aluminum," 1982-1986, which are installed in two large former artillery sheds that had served as housing for the German POWs. These aluminum boxes, all of the same exterior dimensions but each uniquely constructed with different variations of set-ins, angles and lengths, represent, to me anyway, an incredibly great work, the best-realized abstract theme-and-variation expression in abstract sculpture.
The installation for Flavin's works represents a serious commitment to making his artistic and aesthetic vision real. These works combine subtleties of light, color, and space with the vividness of contrasting colors of fluorescent lights. It took six buildings to house Flavin's works, each with a pair of views that form, in all, a complete set of variations on his theme.
Flavin designed these works over a number of years, culminating in 1996. Unfortunately, he died later that year and thus never saw the completed installation, inaugurated in 2000.
Other works, either at the main site or in the renovated Marfa Wool and Mohair Building in downtown Marfa, run the gamut from John Chamberlain's crushed automobile panels to Ilya Kabakov's bleak ruminescences on Soviet elementary schools. One gallery, in a former stable, is devoted to the art of John Wesley; this exhibition has a multimedia piece from 1965, called "Flavin's Official," built around a photograph of Dan Flavin.
Outside the buildings stands a monumental sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Brugge, which commemorates Fort D. A. Russell's last horse. This work is, appropriately enough, entitled "Monument to the last horse."
The morning tour took us to the Arena, the post's former gymnasium, which later served as a horse arena, and which Judd reworked as a commons space. The building includes Judd's signature square doors and windows, along with large-scale patterns on the floor. We were lucky to be there as the sun's rays lined up perfectly with this pattern.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Over spring break Susie and I visited Marfa, Texas, a town of just of 2000 people that serves as a gateway to the Big Bend country but that is interesting in its own right. The drive from El Paso took us about 3-1/2 hours. We stopped for lunch at the McDonald's in Van Horn, where the diners included, as near as I could tell, the members of the metalcore band Miss May I (I had to learn from Wikipedia that metalcore is a subgenre of heavy metal music combining elements of extreme metal and hardcore punk), apparently on their way from California to perform in Austin at South by Southwest. I'm not sure whether I'm happier that Susie and I dine in places favored by heavy metal bands or that heavy metal bands actually eat at McDonald's like the rest of us.

The seat of Presidio County, Marfa has transitioned from a fate like that of the town in "The Last Picture Show"--both of Marfa's movie theaters seem to be long closed--to becoming home to an eclectic mix of ranchers and artists. The highway through town runs east-west, paralleling the railroad tracks. Crossing the tracks to the north brings you along North Highland Avenue into the heart of the town, facing the courthouse.
Along North Highland you'll find the offices of the Big Bend Sentinel, the region's weekly newspaper, and classic buildings like the Brite Building.
The family that built the Brite Building also built a large house on the edge of town west of the courthouse.
Just off North Highland sits the Hotel Paisano, a classic hotel designed by El Paso architect Henry Trost. The hotel was built in 1930, in anticipation of an economic boom that never arrived. The Paisano has style elements that recall several of Trost's best buildings from El Paso.
Today, Marfa serves as the central town for the region's cattle ranchers. Ranches abut the town, and cattle trucks drive down its streets. For the outside world, Marfa is best known as an arts community, which developed after the abstract sculptor Donald Judd moved here in 1972 and later created the Chinati Foundation, which is one of the world's major sites for modern, especially minimalist, large-scale art installations. We spent an entire day at the Chinati Foundation, and I'll describe our visit in a later posting.
A single railroad track divides along an east-west line, with downtown and most of the residential district to the north and with the Chinati Foundation and the Border Patrol station to the south. There's a large public shed on the south side of the tracks that at lunch serves as home to the Food Shark truck, which serves meals so popular--at least during spring break--that we waited in line for 30 minutes to order, then another 30 minutes for the food. The food was worth the wait, I'm happy to report.
On Saturday mornings the shed hosts a farmer's market that, although a little sparse, offers a terrific breakfasts, punctuated by the roar of passing trains.The farmer's market's clientele reflected Marfa's eclectic population of inhabitants and visitors, including this occupant of a motorcycle side-car.

Marfa's dining choices range from the Dairy Queen, where locals hang out to chat, to friendly funky spots like the Pizza Foundation, to upscale restaurants like Cochineal, which serves elegant, imaginative meals. The days and hours of restaurants--and stores--in Marfa are atypical, reflecting the town's life as a weekend destination. It's best to check ahead before heading out.
Susie and I were fortunate to be in Marfa for the opening of a terrific exhibition at Ballroom Marfa, a non-profit space for contemporary art and culture. "The World According to New Orleans," curated by Dan Cameron, presents interesting work by artists from New Orleans, some of whom are dead and some of whom are living. The living artists were there for the opening reception, which was a huge success. I was particularly impressed by the works of Skylar Fein and Bruce Davenport, Jr., and talked with both of them about their art. After the reception, everyone decamped for a community dinner at the Capri, which turns out to have multiple signs, none of which say "Capri," as far as I could tell. This is a great refurbished space, still announced by signs of the establishments that used to be there, such as the Thunderbird Restaurant. In the event, the food was a wonderful and copious rendition of Southern cooking, and the meal was followed by a concert by Little Freddie King, who played the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for 32 years, along with his band.

The people attending the reception, dinner and concert appeared to reflect Marfa's mix of residents and visitors. Many wore western wear, some more plausibly than others. Among women, a skirt and cowboy boots proved a popular look.

Marfa is a work in progress--still declining, still growing, still changing. The Dollar Store has moved into a new building on the east side of town. Older buildings, like the Ballroom and the Capri have been rebuilt and repurposed. Other buildings reflect a stasis of old construction and modern hopes.

El Paso Sunsets

April 5, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

El Paso Sunsets

February 3, 2011

Winter Hits El Paso

Over the last several days, El Paso has been hit by the worst winter weather in something like 35 years, with temperatures dipping down into the low single digits. At this time of year the high is normally about 63 degrees, and we've been suffering from "highs" of 15 and 18 degrees. Our local electric utility was ill-prepared for the cold and lost generating capacity. As a result, the utility inflicted "rolling blackouts" across the city, shutting off electricity to various parts of the city, including ours, for 3o minutes to an hour each time. Pipes froze in buildings all over the city, including at our house; we had to stay with our parents-in-law for three nights. And now that the temperatures have climbed back above freezing, pipes have been bursting everywhere. The bursting pipes spared our house but hit most of our friends and relatives. Plumbers and clean-up crews have been having a field day. Crews have come from as far away as Tennessee to help with the mopping up.

As a result of electricity black-outs and the burst pipes, the water utility district has been struggling to provide water service. The reservoirs are nearly empty, and people in El Paso people have discolored water or low water pressure. The entire city is under mandatory water-use restrictions--no taking showers, no using dishwashers, no using washing machines, no watering, etc.

When the temperatures were low and both electricity and gas were scarce, the city asked the schools and colleges to close to save energy. So UTEP was closed Wednesday through Friday of last week. And now that water is scarce, the city has asked the schools and colleges to close again to conserve water. So UTEP will be closed again on Monday, at least.

The funny thing is that yesterday and today were really nice, with lots of sunshine and beautiful sunsets, punctuated with bursting pipes.