Because the Chinati Foundation isn’t called the Chinati Museum, a crucial element of its identity is obscured: It’s an artist-created art museum, arguably the only significant artist-created art museum in America.
Or maybe it’s not the “foundation” part that causes us to forget that. Chinati is in Marfa, Texas. It requires a lot of travel and a willingness to be uncomfortable in the presence of art. (Bugs, rattlesnakes, heat, intense sun, bugs.) It is not a typical or traditional museum.
Late last year Chinati took an important step toward presenting itself as more than a pilgrimage destination: Along with Yale University Press, Chinati published a magnificent 328-page ‘autobiography’ and catalogue of its collection.
Titled “Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd,” it includes an essay about how Chinati came into being, detailed essays on every work or space in Chinati’s collection, a complete listing of all the works in Chinati’s collection and of its exhibitions (through 2010), selected Chinati-relevant texts by Judd, and essays by Rudi Fuchs, Richard Shiff and Nic Serota.
Former Chinati executive director Marianne Stockebrand’s lead essay on Judd and Chinati goes beyond the museum to detail Judd’s other spaces in West Texas, including his ranch. It’s must-reading for anyone interested in Judd, minimalism, land art or American environmentalism. Stockebrand especially focuses on what might be called Judd’s artist-centric utopianism, in his interest in things — art, its installation, presentation, and so forth — being exactly the way the artist wanted it, for as long as possible. That Chinati still presents art both by and collected by Judd as Judd and other artists created it over 30 years after Judd started fabricating Chinati’s first work is a testament to how successful not just Judd was, but how well Chinati’s stewards have run it.
(Still, there’s room for continued vision: Buildings Judd designed and anticipated building on site remain un-constructed for lack of funds. Chinati has the work Judd expected to put in them. Chinati is also eager to build a Robert Irwin pavilion.)
The two most significant essays on Chinati’s art are about Judd’s two greatest works, both of which are in Chinati’s collection: 15 untitled works in concrete (1980-84, detail above right and below left via Flickr user Gilkata) and 100 untitled works in mill aluminum (1982-86). The two essays, both by Stockebrand, detail the specifics of how and where the works were made, sited, and even shipped. As with all the catalogue’s entries, each essay is supported by numerous photographs. Sometimes the book is so beautiful that you forget to read the essays.
I hope “Chinati” serves one other purpose: The current en vogue art-patronage model is the Pinault-Joannou-Broad-Fisher approach: Buy up scads of art at auction and from Larry Gagosian and present it in a way that is as much monument to the collector as to the artist(s). “Chinati” reminds us that another model was briefly and narrowly en vogue in the 1960s and 1970s: Discover artists with vision and support their wildest ideas to the edge of the plains. If you collect and you want to have an impact, this book reminds you that alternate paths are worth re-discovering.