Marfa Invitational brings big crowds to town

Photo by Dana Kurth for The Big Bend Sentinel / Kathylina Acosta, a Marfa local, takes in the art on display at the Marfa Invitational with her 11 month old son, Romeo. The Marfa Invitational is an annual art fair open to the public in Marfa, TX.

MARFA – The second annual Marfa Invitational art fair swept through town last week, bringing with it some of the largest crowds since the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

The four-day affair, which was largely open to the public, spread across town, but the majority of the art booths were housed in the Saint George Hall, just across the street from the hotel. While the crowds were slim at first at the opening at 5 p.m. on Thursday, groups began arriving in a steady stream to view –– and purchase –– art from galleries all over the globe. 

With nine galleries making their way into town, there was a wide range of art on display –– from Alexandra Grant’s abstract text-based paintings to Grant Levy-Lucero’s pop-culture ceramic sculptures.

One of the more popular exhibits featured still-life paintings from artist Nikki Maloof at the Nino Mier gallery. The gallery said that the series is about “the sourcing, preparation, cooking and enjoying of a grotesque, yet compelling feast.” Most of Maloof’s work on display had already been sold online prior to the fair, according to the gallerists at the booth. 

At the German-based Natalia Hug Gallery, artist Jana Schröder presented her paintings based on post-it notes, “which are not at all revered,” said Mary Etherington, a local writer showing the work. Etherington filled in for the gallerist who couldn’t travel out of Germany, as she wasn’t able to get vaccinated. 

Etherington said she didn’t see many people properly covering their faces with masks at the event. “Masks were not required, and I heard many, many times over the weekend, ‘I’m fully vaccinated,’” she said. Etherington was the only Marfa resident showing work at the fair. 

Throughout the evening some guests migrated to the Hotel Saint George Pool, where the VIP cocktail reception officially kicked off at 8 p.m. Upwards of 200 people mingled poolside, drinking cocktails and eating Tex-Mex. The fair’s founder, Michael Phelan, was moving throughout the crowd, joining in on photos wherever he went. Near nightfall, a few guests plunged into the pool. 

Suzanne Deal Booth, whom ARTnews listed in 2018 as one of the top 200 art collectors in the world, had nothing but nice things to say about the opening night. “I would never have thought that this would happen in Marfa,” she said. “It’s a great cross section of people, both locals and art people.” Deal Booth said she had reserved a piece from the show but wouldn’t disclose the artist or gallery. 

Nino Mier, who owns the Nino Mier Gallery, also attended the reception. He was impressed with the way Phelan had marketed and curated the event. “90 percent of the art is great,” Mier said. 

The party was just one of many events VIPs got in return for their $800 ticket –– for tri-county residents, the price was $425. Other VIP events included collectors talks and private home tours. According to the Invitational’s website, the $800 VIP pass sold out. 

As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, Phelan promised to gather both national and international art buffs for the fair, and flight records show that the Marfa airport was busier than usual this past week –– the tiny airstrip welcomed planes out of Austin, Wyoming and California. 

Photo by Dana Kurth for The Big Bend Sentinel / Jake Longstreth, an artist based in Los Angeles, CA, poses beside his work on display by the Nino Mier Gallery at 218 N Highland St. in Marfa, TX on Friday, April 23, 2021. The gallery’s opening was part of the events of the Marfa Invitational, an annual art fair open to the public in Marfa, TX.

On the second day of the Marfa Invitational, artist Jake Longstreth showed his series of eucalyptus and pine tree paintings at the Marfa Invitational Annex by the Palace Theatre. “These are views that you would encounter pretty typically in a hike in like Glendale [California],” he said of his work. 

Longstreth said that the invitational was unlike other art fairs that are in big cities like Miami and New York. “This is a very special fair for obvious reasons. We’re in the middle of West Texas in this cool little town,” he said. “There’s a strong vibe here, I don’t know how else to put it.”

Alongside the fair, a number of local galleries hosted events over the weekend. Z Ranch, an outdoor exhibition space behind Marfa National Bank, had seven artists presenting a number of multimedia projects in a show titled “69 on Sunshine.” 

Mo Eldridge, who has been co-running the space for over two years, said “69 on Sunshine” was about challenging the idea of white-wall gallery spaces. 

While Phelan promised to bring global artists, Eldridge was excited about showcasing art from the area. Benjamin Buxton, who was living in Marfa during the lockdown, showed three short films projected onto Z Ranch’s adobe walls focused on labor in West Texas throughout the pandemic.

Eldridge was excited to see how many different pockets of the Marfa community came out to their event. “I’m interested in a dialogue with people in my community and people who are interested in this community of artists,” they said. 

At Marfa Open, another alternative art space, there was a show that opened on Thursday featuring large-scale oil paintings from Raciel Esperanza. “While we did plan this with the invitational in mind, it wasn’t necessarily dependent on it,” said Emily Esperanza, who curated the show. “A lot of people who walked in who came for the invitational said this was one of the strongest shows they’ve seen,” she said.  

As for how this year’s invitational went, Phelan noted the “brisk” sales at some of the galleries in attendance. It is Marfa Invitational’s core belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” he said after the fair had come to a close, “and that supporting and championing our neighbors and community through collaboration and outreach heightens our human experience.”