Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005 Page: 59
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Julian partially understood why I came to "of all places, Texas".
Corinna Schnitt, an artist at the Chinati Foundation, was the main
reason. The rest involved understanding the motivations of fetish, or
at least, the fascination that can drive people to come to a town three
hours from the nearest airport with little other avenues to arrive but to
toil. It's a good selling point. Why not turn art into a high-gloss selling
point? As much as it is a good way to sell historicized aggrandizement
of the artist au fond, religiosity translates well into pounds and pence.
There're two sensibilities flocking to Marfa of late, each seem-
ingly in sure confidence of being there. One finds the weather, the
open landscape and a modicum of things to do but simply be in Marfa
welcoming. The other half wants to tell their friends over cocktails,
"Marfa...been there." They both seem to be self-possessed in their
own truth of what art "is." At least, if you've been to Maiya's, the res-
taurant with the fantastic-and fantastically priced-steak, they'd tell
you about the "spirituality of art" in between latent gasps over their
cell phones with built-in cameras. Be prepared to also hear that though
they are rich wives of New Yorkers, these walking, talking, yet to be
mounted trophy busts are artists, too. (Many tend toward watercol-
ors... of houses...and "nature.")
Speaking to these byproducts of Marfa's recent growth-the Artist-
as-Owners-of-Expensive Lotions-one reaches to the depth of Odradek
for empathy: He does no harm to anyone that one can see; but the idea
that he is likely to survive me I find almost painful (Franz Kafka).
While dodging fuckers licking ice cream and precariously bobbing
through the trellis of their desultory high-fives, there are brief moments
of witnessing creativity of the highest order. They undoubtedly seem
to be Chinati artists in residence, who most of the time produce works
that, in resonance, edge the Chinati collection into the respectable--
yet categorized-charnel house of spent modernity. Schnitt surely
ranks in this category of critical freshness. A subtle combination of
humor, detachment-and, most tellingly, the failure of meaningful
social interaction that leads to aloneness-abounds in her film work.
Most of them are so devoid of panache that they almost come across
as deadpan public service announcements for gonorrhea. It's hard not
to think these short, densely fragile films will be picked up in the gal-
lery sphere full-stride soon. Robert Miller Gallery in New York sported
the first of these films-Living a Beautiful Life, a riotously funny and
disturbing mime of a young boy and girl's notion of the perfect life-
style, aped by a glamorous Los Angeles couple on top of their canyon
home-in a group show this past winter.
Quality, however, doesn't necessarily translate into interest in
Marfa. Using Schnitt's show as a cultural barometer for last year-and
the climate changes nearly on a weekly basis, much like land prices
depending on which hedge-fund manager is rumored to be buying
property-the audience in attendance gave off collective excitement
equivalent to listening to Janet Reno talk about contract law, as inter-
viewed by John Major. Quite simply, it didn't capture or hold the room.
I'm under the assumption the show was terrific; whoever agreed with
me was certainly in the silent minority.
This might say something about the vaunted "cultural" grading of
Marfa, mostly given by its own accord. Nobody wants to think they live
in an artistically impoverished place. Yet to sincerely believe Marfa is
the second coming of fin de siecle Vienna is patently absurd or simply
disingenuous. Art arises out of choice. In a place in which one sensi-
bility holds dominion of artistic merit as Judd supposedly held-and
wrongfully so in the democratic spirit-that the transparency of one's
allegiances is fruitlessly visible. The attitude came full circle in a tour
I gave the day after Schnitt's show. A loud, brash man and his wife were
felled by the authoritative beauty of Judd's 100 Untitled Aluminum
Boxes, the centerpiece of the Chinati collection. The husband had a
knowing glint in his eyes when he radiated his stare onto my own.
"This is fucking art."
"How do you know?"
"You can tell. This is tasteful."
He looked at me as if I were complicit in this specially granted knowl-
edge, of which I was now finding myself an unwitting (and slightly
trembling) initiate into gnosis. Not knowing how to translate in faith
feelings of "shitload of taste," I stared at the wife as a diversion. She
loved the piece as well. She was, through the lens of achievable things,
adjusting her lipstick in the reflective surface of box #42. It made me
appreciate Schnitt even more.
A problematic detail of Marfa is that everybody is an artist-or at
least thinks of themselves as one. A hazy notion of "true" art, whatever
the hell that may be, seems to parlay itself into the prattle of who's
going to hold the flag for the spirit of the true cause. The can of worms
Marcel Duchamp opened nine decades ago is fleshing itself out into
a battle of Pyrrhic wills: us versus them; elite against the temporally
"nonelite." Nobody, in the end, really cares much about this.
Of course the people who least give a shit are the artists doing
work without any notion of Marfa's cultural reinvigoration. By the
way, Chinati's recent artist, Wilhelm Sasnal, was working in regards
to nobody's agenda; the querulous debate seems to indicate that the
battle for the sacredness of art is, at least, a provincial affair.
Sasnal is, most likely, the biggest name-draw of all the artists that
have been associated with Chinati's residency program, and he's
surely one of its best. Apart from the rabble of daily living in Marfa,
ARTL!ES Summer 2005 59
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Bryant, John & Gupta, Anjali. Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005, periodical, 2005; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228012/m1/61/: accessed November 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .