Museum management team continues Judd’s vision of Chinati
By RICHARD MARK GLOVER and ROBERT HALPERN
MARFA – They were cool, calm, and collected when the four Chinai Foundation senior staff members gathered in the Chinati library a week before the 2012 open house weekend to talk about the state of Donald Judd’s public art foundation and museum.
Curator-at-large Rob Weiner, Chief Operating Officer Marella Consolini, Chief Financial Officer Kelly Sudderth, and Director of Education and Outreach Ann Marie Nafziger have things securely in hand. They were thrust into the day-to-day management of the $12.5 million museum five months ago when Dr. Thomas Kellein abruptly resigned as director in April.
No reason was given when Chinati’s board of directors announced Kellein’s departure in a news release, which also stated that the existing senior staff members would replace the director for the time being.
“The board felt comfortable with the team approach,” said Consolini. “We’re finding power in each other. Everybody at the table here wears multiple hats.”
The table is a Judd, five two-inch-thick by twelve-inch-wide planks of simple pinewood that he favored for his rustic furniture. It fits neatly in the library at foundation headquarters, formerly Fort D.A. Russell, a World War I cavalry base and a World War II artillery base that housed German prisoners of war. Two naked light bulbs, diffused at the bottom, hang from their sockets, a collection of Chamberlain photographs are framed on one wall, and floor-to-ceiling books cover another, books on Picasso, Ruscha, Warhol – millions of words on art and artists.
“What’s it like not having him (Judd) around?” Weiner was asked.
“It’s his energy,” said Weiner, the only one of the four who knew Judd. “It’s something still very present.”
Judd attended his last open house in 1993, and by February 1994 he had died of cancer in New York. He was 64.
The artist’s presence is also manifested “in the trees, it’s the door, it’s the table,” said Consolini.
Judd’s door to the library, like others at the foundation, is made of wood and glass on a center pivot, a variation of a bump gate used on some ranches – not in Far West Texas – so the driver didn’t have to leave the truck to open the gate. Down the hill, 50 cottonwood trees, planted by Judd along longitude 104, stand just behind “15 Untitled Works in Concrete,” the concrete pieces, as the locals call them.
“It’s easy to be a steward to Judd’s vision,” said Consolini.
“And his vision is not looking to be reinterpreted,” said Weiner. “It’s clear.”
That’s the confidence the board saw in the senior administrators to continue the work at Chinati.
“The responsibility of all to whom the stewardship of Chinati is entrusted is to jealously safeguard the fundamental vision of its founder, Donald Judd,” Arlene Dayton, Chair of Chinati’s Board of Directors, said in an email. “Judd sought to establish an institution to serve as the strict measure of what art and its context were meant to be. Chinati’s standing throughout the world is a testament to that vision.
“Chinati’s current senior team – consisting of Marella Consolini, Kelly Sudderth and Rob Weiner – together with the total professional staff seventeen strong – have risen to the occasion and maintained the institution on an even and secure keel,” Dayton said. “And staff has worked closely with the entire Board of Directors who has also toiled tirelessly on Chinati’s behalf – stewarding the institution with high principles and wisdom.
“It is the talent and commitment of Chinati’s leadership – professional and lay – that give us unqualified confidence into the future,” Dayton said.
“I would also advise that to this point the board has not announced its intention to conduct a director’s search,” Dayton said. “This matter will be discussed at the meetings at Chinati this weekend, and an announcement will be forthcoming.”
The reasons for Kellein’s departure remain a mystery. Contacted by email this week about his departure, his accomplishments at Chinati, and what he’s doing now and where, Kellein replied, “I am very busy right now, excuse me for not being able to get into a discussion of these important questions. If I come to Marfa this weekend, which is still possible, we will hopefully see you and could certainly start to talk.”
How Weiner, Consolini, Sudderth, and Nafziger came to Marfa is a now-typical tale of arrival, channeled by Judd and art.
Weiner was attending grad school in New York in 1989 when a friend of a friend said there was some work to be done at 101 Spring Street, Judd’s place in New York.
“He (Judd) wanted to change the color of the elevator shaft from red to white at his residence. It was steel, exposed to the street, and the job paid a good hourly rate,” Weiner recalled.
Weiner was hired and eventually became Judd’s personal assistant. He moved to Marfa in 1989.
Consolini first came to Marfa in 2006. She has more than 25 years experience in the non-profit and commercial art worlds. Before joining Chinati, she was the founder and principal of Project Management for the Arts, a consulting firm in New York City providing administrative and curatorial expertise to organizations and individuals nationwide. Prior to that, she was Chief of Staff at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Working closely with the Museum’s Director, she oversaw the institution’s operations and management.
She also was Executive Director of the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, one of the country’s pre-eminent artist residency programs. She has also been a Director and Vice President of Knoedler & Company – the oldest gallery in New York (est. 1846), representing first and second-generation Post-war Abstract Expressionist painters and sculptors. Among other work experience, Consolini was a proud member of the founding team of eArtGroup.com, an internet art site launched in the winter of 1999. She was also Associate Director of Laura Carpenter Fine Art in Santa Fe, NM.
She earned a B.A. from Bard College and completed additional course work at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is a member of ArtTable, Inc., the national membership organization for professional women in leadership positions in the visual arts.
“I came to see the Chinati Foundation,” said Consolini. “If you’re in the contemporary art world, Marfa is on your radar. But when I got here, there was something more about the place. I felt really happy. The landscape, the aesthetics of the town, the incredible nature – all those aspects came together. I wrote Jimmie (Rodewald, her journalist husband) and he said later that he read between the lines, ‘some day we’ll live here.’”
Consolini said she was introduced to now-retired Chinati Director Marianne Stockebrand later in 2006 in New York and the “some day” arrived on June 1, 2010, when she and Rodewald moved to Marfa, and she took the reins as foundation administrative director.
Sudderth, a Certified Public Accountant, has more than 10 years’ experience as a financial and management advisor. Before joining Chinati in 2008, she forecasted income tax rates for Tesoro Corporation, a Fortune 150 company. Prior to that, she was a consultant with Deloitte & Touche, an international public accounting firm, where she specialized in troubled debt restructurings, tax-free reorganizations and consolidated income tax return issues.
She has an M.A. in accounting from Texas Tech University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. She is active in the community, having co-founded the Marfa Education Foundation and serving for the last four years on the Board of Directors of the Marfa Chamber of Commerce.
She and her husband David, an educator, have four children.
“I visited Chinati with my mother during a Big Bend road trip in 2007,” said Sudderth. “The art and especially the artillery sheds just blew me away. Then I remember commenting to my mother, ‘Can you imagine working in a place like this?’”
“Yes,” was the resounding reply from her mother and others on the trip, she recalled.
Perhaps the most public face of Chinati is Nafziger, who organizes events with community members and school children.
She worked as an artist in Portland, Oregon before coming to Marfa for the first time in 1997.
“I met a few people and kept coming out,” Nafzinger said.
She was hired in 2008, filling a new position created specifically to address the need to professionalize and expand the museum’s educational and public programs and to further engage the local community.
During her tenure at Chinati she has successfully implemented new classes, workshops and community events, nearly all of them free to area residents. She has collaborated with area school districts, enhanced the museum internship and volunteer program for university students, created a docent program, and initiated a series of open viewings and lectures based on Chinati’s collection.
In fall 2011, under Nafziger’s direction, the museum’s education department received a two-year, $120,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to continue to expand and strengthen its programming efforts. Over the past year, thanks to this secured funding, Nafziger and her staff have developed formal curriculum and evaluation plans, hired additional teachers from the community, expanded K-12 art classes, added activities for preschool children, and created new adult programs.
Most recently, she started an organic garden on the museum grounds, affiliated with Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard Project and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign. Planted and tended by staff, volunteers, and students involved in the museum’s art classes, the year-round garden is used for education and public programming focused on sustainability, food, and the connection between art and the natural environment.
Nafziger is a practicing artist and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting from the University of Houston School of Art. She exhibits her work both locally and nationally and was most recently awarded an artist residency with Caldera, Sisters, Oregon, in 2011.
She’s lived in Marfa since 2003 and is married to Peter Stanley, a former Chinati intern who earned a degree in architecture from Rice University in Houston. They met and married in Marfa.
“Judd started the summer art classes for children over 20 years ago,” Nafziger said. “It was important to him and we’ve continued the tradition.”
Chinati remains one of the main magnets to Marfa, and attendance at Chinati was up 17 percent in August, with nearly 7,000 year-to-date visitors. Visitor demographics, according to Weiner, is about one-third from Texas, one-third from elsewhere in the United States, and one-third from abroad.
While much of Judd’s vision has been realized, much remains to be done, some beyond his plans. Stockebrand, before she retired, asked the artist Robert Irwin to conceive a Chinati installation and he has agreed, but the project remains unfunded.
Stockebrand is serving as a consultant at this year’s Chinati Weekend.
Six concrete galleries designed by Judd – two partially completed – await financing as well. There’s also the Judd plan for a Fort DA Russell museum on the site.
Consolini said an ongoing major undertaking is the maintenance and upkeep of the old fort buildings that are now galleries, offices, apartments, and work spaces.
Sudderth – and the rest of the senior staff – has kept the foundation in the black, even through the lean years of the recession.
Chinati’s 2010 IRS tax return, the most recent, shows revenue of $2.1 million, expenses of $1.8 million of which $1 million is salaries, for a $262,000 cushion.
But enough talk about the workings of Chinati.
“The best thing about Chinati Weekend is that the entire collection is open to the public and it’s free,” said Sudderth.
Story filed under: Arts