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El Cosmico and the Art of Marfa, Texas

3 April 2011 5,842 views 12 Comments

In Austin, Marfa is spoken of in hushed tones almost as if going there is a religious experience. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me over the years, “you have to go to Marfa, you will love it!”


Now, I’ve been there. And, I love it. Marfa is seven and a half hours west of Austin, and I can’t wait to make the pilgrimage again.

We stopped in Alpine on the way in, the largest city in the triangle of cool West Texas towns that includes Marfa and Marathon. Although these are small towns, I knew they were my kind of places because they all have these wonderful book shops. Front Street Books is in Alpine and Marathon, and Marfa Book Company. And, while Marfa has only about 2,000 full-time residents, it is home to Marfa Public Radio, launched in 2006 to become the first radio station providing national and world news to far West Texas.

There is a sense of possibility, culture, and quirkiness in Marfa that naturally draws in us “weird” and “blue oasis in a red state” Austinites.

I visited Marfa twice on my recent road trip — with Adam on the way out west, and with my mom on the way back. Both times, we stayed in El Cosmico*, a funky collection of trailers, teepees, yurts, and campground located a few blocks from the center of town.

el cosmico sign

For those looking for adventure, staying at El Cosmico while in Marfa is a must. Right now they have five refurbished and funky trailers from the 1950s, and we stayed in the Imperial Mansion and the Branstrator. They were both really cozy and came with much-needed space heaters (in spring it gets below freezing at night), candles, and a full kitchen stocked with locally roasted coffee.

Vagabond and Kozy Coach at El Cosmico

Vagabond and Kozy Coach at El Cosmico

Marfa is an artists community and Adam and I spent the better part of a day on guided tours of Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation. Judd, who lived in Marfa from the 1970′s to the 1990′s, and his name and spirit remain alive in this small town that has continued to attract artists, dreamers, and tourists to this day. However, both times we were there, Marfa felt almost completely deserted, and I would recommend visiting during the off season to fully enjoy the solitude of the area.

I love this amazing photo that Adam took that incorporates Judd’s “100 untitled works in mill aluminum.” It perfectly captures Donald Judd’s mission to create works  in which the objects are meant to be experienced within the context of the landscape.

Adam's awesome photo of Donald Judd's work and the Marfa landscape

Adam's awesome photo of Donald Judd's work and the Marfa landscape

Being a minimalist, Adam tends to be more of a modern art fan than I am, and even though I was bored out of my skull during a visit to Dan Flavin’s “untitled (Marfa project),” I loved the cool pictures we took using the fluorescent lighting.

light pic for blog

Adam inspects Dan Flavin's work

Other activities we enjoyed in Marfa included admiring the beautiful architecture of the town, and driving 45 minutes out to the McDonald Observatory one Friday night for a “star party.” The star party is less a party, more of a fascinating lecture and tour of the night sky. My mom and I bundled up in long underwear, hats, scarves, and gloves and joined the group of families, teenagers on school trips, and senior citizens at the Observatory for the event. It was absolutely fascinating to me to sit outside and stare up at the billions of stars in the night sky while the astronomer used a laser pointer that seemed to touch the constellations and planets as he talked about our galaxy and those beyond.

After the lecture, the group had a chance to view objects that were millions of light years away through powerful telescopes. For me, the lecture was by far the highlight but I’m sure amateur astronomers would have been geeking out to have that opportunity.

Oh and have you heard of the Marfa Lights? Count me among the doubters. I went twice to the viewing platform and didn’t see ‘em. Would love to know in the comments if you have been, seen them, and weren’t on drugs at the time. Yeah, I don’t believe they exist.

For more photos of Marfa, check out the slideshow below.

*I received a twenty percent media discount on each visit to El Cosmico.

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