Chinati pauses applications for 2023 artists in residence program

November Chinati artist in residence Wong Kit Yi plays trash bag bagpipes in a tribute to Donald Judd. Photo courtesy Wong Kit Yi.

MARFA — Hosting international artists comes with its challenges, and the ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges for the Chinati Foundation’s Artists in Residence program, which recently announced it would suspend applications for 2023.

The residency’s rhythm is typically to host one artist every two months, but since the start of the pandemic in 2020 schedules have been thrown off — artists have continually deferred their residences, creating a backlog. Plus, logistical hoops artists have to jump through to travel to Marfa during the pandemic era create added stress on all parties. The foundation began to feel that a hiatus was the best way to ensure a fruitful experience for all involved.

“It’s very important that artists have a good experience here at the museum created by an artist for artists,” said Chinati Curator Ingrid Schaffner.

Schaffner said the museum has been working to accommodate visiting artists, ensuring their spot is secure until they can make it safely to the remote residency. For 2022, Chinati accepted five out of 600 applicants into the program, which has been operating steadily since 1989.

“When I spoke to the artists that I invited last year, we had a very frank conversation about how vulnerable we are out here in the frontier,” said Schaffner. “It’s a hard won opportunity and we’re not going to make it go away just because of this circumstance that we all find ourselves in.” 

But postponements kept piling up, leading the museum to pause applications for 2023 in order to play catch up from the past two years of continued uncertainty and changing circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Why create more anxiety and stress when this is meant to be a very special time for [artists] to be in the space of [their] work and not be worrying about travel?” said Schaffner.

New York-based artist Mike Crane, who was supposed to arrive in January of this year, postponed indefinitely, citing the omicron resurgence and safety concerns for holiday travel. Artists Lucy Skaer, 2021 Chinati artist in residence, and Anne Hardy, 2020 Chinati artist in residence, who would be coming to Far West Texas from the United Kingdom, have been unable to carry out their residencies due to COVID-related travel bans — and fears that once here, they might get stuck and be unable to return home if those COVID restrictions pick back up. 

Chinati’s latest artist in residence, Wong Kit Yi, who was in town operating out of the foundation’s Locker Plant studio from November 2021 to January 2022, will have to quarantine for over 20 days in a hotel room when she returns to Hong Kong. 

Out of a desire to have only one artist at the Locker Plant studio at a time, some residencies might take on a different format, said Schaffner.

“It might mean that your residency is more like a sabbatical with time and space to read and think and you might not have access to the studio because I have to give priority to the artist on the schedule,” said Schaffner.

All of Chinati’s 2022 artists in residence selects reside within the United States. Schaffner said painter Sarah Crowner is set to arrive in March as planned. The energy artists bring to the tight-knit museum community is an important part of their programming, said Schaffner.

“When the artist residency apartment is vacant we feel it for our small community here at Chinati,” said Schaffner. “The open studio events are always so special and that kind of infusion of art and practice and the thinking that artists bring is something that we relish.” 

Most recently, artist Kit Yi presented her work-in-progress, a 22-minute video titled Dial 432 to See the Light in early January for open studio visitors. 

The performance lecture was based on the artist’s research in Marfa and the surrounding areas. Kit Yi explored Chinese builders of the Texas Pacific Railroad, unearthing a recipe for a Chinese beef and pepper stew in an old Marfa cookbook. Scenes filmed on Highway 17 from Fort Davis to Marfa accompany musings on the ethnic divisions of cemeteries in Marfa and El Paso. A meditation on the concept of casadastraphobia — the fear of falling into the stars — leads into Kit Yi’s examination of bagpipes at Hong Kong funerals and culminates in a trash bag bagpipe tribute to Donald Judd and study of his early 3D works. 

“The way artists are always showing us what’s here in new ways, when artists aren’t here doing that at Chinati we miss them,” said Schaffner.