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Increased visitation, Judd’s vision drives Chinati Foundation’s master plan

May 4th, 2017 under Home Story Highlight » Top Stories
(Chinati photo by and courtesy of JESSICA LUTZ) Marfa Ballet Folklorico dancers entertained members of the community with a performance at this year’s Chinati Community Day BBQ at the Arena.

(Chinati photo by and courtesy of JESSICA LUTZ)
Marfa Ballet Folklorico dancers entertained members of the community with a performance at this year’s Chinati Community Day BBQ at the Arena.


MARFA – The Chinati Foundation unveiled its master plan at a Saturday morning symposium at the Crowley Theater, a plan driven to accommodate a growing number of art travelers trekking to Marfa and the foundation each year.

Yet the plan, by the design and planning firm Sasaki, hews closely to staying true to Donald Judd’s vision for the museum.

The symposium, a part of Chinati’s Community Day activities, included two panels, one featuring Saski representatives Brie Hensold and Bryan Irwin, and one featuring Frank Sanchis III of the World Monument Fund, and architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams.

Karen Stein of the George Nelson Foundation and who has a longtime relationship with Chinati, moderated both panels.

The symposium began with an oral history of the foundation, as an equestrian military camp during the Mexican Revolution to a World War II artillery training base and German prisoner detention facility in the war’s waning years, and from Judd’s first visit to West Texas while en route to California after enlisting the U.S. Army to the present day, as told by Chinati Executive Director Jenny Moore, Director of Facilities Peter Stanley, and Associate Director Rob Weiner.

According to Irwin, the Master Plan has been in full swing for about a year, during which Sasaki has held “vigorous conversations” with Chinati in regard to the plan, which includes ideas for making the main campus more accessible to all visitors – especially those with disabilities – and attempting to connect the off-campus sites in a more cohesive way.

The plan, he added, has been carefully vetted to “Understand and appreciate the high desert landscape and how nuanced that landscape is.”

Sasaki, he explained, is on Phase 3 of the plan, which is to present the “guiding principals,” which is a set of six ideals that coincide with Judd’s philosophy as laid out in his extensive writings.

The principals, he explained, “will advance Judd’s mission to present and maintain on a permanent basis the work of a select group of artists;” use Judd’s writings to inform decisions; keep physical growth of the Chinati grounds limited to the use of existing structures; preserve the artwork; preserve the nature of the artists’ intentions; and “continue to server local and global communites through expanded public access to the collection, supporting programs, scholarship, and partnership.”

The Master Plan, Hensold told the audience, came about as Chinati reached its 30-year anniversary, with the foundation looking forward to the next 30.

Visitation at the Chinati, she added, has also increased in the past seven years from around 9,500 visitors in 2010 to an astonishing 38,000 in 2016.

“[Chinati] is a humble and unassuming location, but it’s not completely accessible,” she said, explaining that the orientation of Barrack #1 – the administrative building and landing point for visitors – is oriented away from the street, which causes confusion among visitors.

One solution, she said, would be to acquire Bingham Hall, which sits on the Chinati campus but is owned by the Judd Foundation, and relocate the front office to that building.

ADA accessibility has also proved to be an issue, as the loop that takes visitors throughout the different exhibitions is unpaved and uneven. Part of the plan, she said, has tackled the issues to make the campus compliant with the  American Disabilities Act.

A rest area at the western side of the pedestrian path is also being considered, complete with a restroom and water fountain.

A foundation to a building that no longer exists at the site, she said, could be used to build the rest area, staying true to Judd’s vision.

Chinati Masterplan illustration

Chinati Masterplan illustration

The plan has also proposed the possible completion of five concrete buildings which were in the early stages of construction before technological and logistical issues put a halt to the project.

Two of the main focuses in the plan, however, are the stabilization of all the buildings that currently house artwork and the rehabilitation of damaged prairie land on the property.

While working on the Master Plan, Irwin said, Sasaki looked at each building, setting a hierarchy for stabilizing the buildings based on a risk-and-consequence model.

The Chamberlan building downtown, he said, is at the top of the list as a leaky roof may endanger the artworks contained therein.

Though there are issues with some buildings, however, Irwin said “there is nothing about any building we need to stay up at night about.”

Restoring the land and landscaping, he said, will not be that difficult, with Sasaki having identified just a few patches of the prairieland that need rehabilitation due either to the spread of invasive species or errors made in good faith during restorations.

The row of cottonwood trees planted by Judd along Mimm’s draw, he said, would have to be replaced, as the trees Judd used have been distressed due to improper irrigation as well as the type of cottonwood he planted.

The grid of pinyon pine trees, also planted by Judd, would also need to be restored, as some trees which once grew have died and will need replacement.

The restoration of the prairie, he said, will come with “relative ease” and take around five years.

Chinati Masterplan illustration

Chinati Masterplan illustration

The sotol grove at the Chamberlain Building, he added, will also need to be completely replanted as the current sotols are at the end of their lives.

Luckily, Judd left behind hand-drawn plans of the sotol grid to facilitate the replanting process.

One idea is for Chinati to grow its own sotol plants to replace them when needed.

The plan also includes phases by year, with Chamberlain building renovation, the stabilization of all buildings, the expansion of visitor services, and relocation of the conservation lab being implemented by year 5; complete studies on completing concrete buildings finished by year 15; and the completion of the buildings to take place past the 15-year mark.

During the second panel, Sanchis, Tsien, and Williams looked at the preservation and future of Chinati through the scope of some of their past projects.

The material used in preservation of Chinati, Sanchis said, should be considered, as some of the material – such as the particleboard Judd used to house the Carl Andres poems – are modern materials that have not fully been researched for their preservation qualities.

“It’s important to research the idea of long-term preservation and what it means in a place like this,” he said.

For Sanchis, Chinati needs to look at the visitor experience not only in the short term, but centuries from now.

Advancements in technology, the amount of visitors, and pre-visitor research, he later said, has led to a decrease in “shock and awe” that was present in the early days of Chinati.

Ideas rolled through including limiting the amount of visitors to the tours, create an unguided open-viewing tour.

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