Marfa resident Caitlin Murray named executive director of the Chinati Foundation 

Caitlin Murray, newly-hired Chinati Foundation executive director and Marfa resident, at the John Chamberlain Building at the Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati. Photo by Alex Marks.

MARFA — The Chinati Foundation announced last week that Caitlin Murray, Marfa resident and longtime director of archives and programs at the Judd Foundation, will take over as its executive director in mid-May. 

Murray will assume the position from Marella Consolini, who has been serving as interim director since the departure of previous Executive Director Jenny Moore in June prompted an international search for a replacement led by an outside firm. Having been with the Judd Foundation since 2008, Murray brings to the directorship a familiarity with the Marfa community as well as a deep understanding of Donald Judd’s life and work. 

“I feel tremendously excited to work with the staff of The Chinati Foundation and the Marfa community. The Chinati Foundation — the programs and exhibitions, the permanent collection — has really shaped who I am,” said Murray in an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel. 

Murray first came to Marfa in 2006 for an internship at The Chinati Foundation, where she was enlisted to help organize Chinati’s library. She had previously worked at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin — where she received degrees in English, library science and art history — archiving and planning exhibitions around the rare books and manuscripts of American and British writers. Living on the grounds of the historic Fort D.A. Russell and in such close proximity to Chinati’s art collections was formative, said Murray. 

“Through that experience, I really came to understand Judd’s thinking that art should be part of our daily lives and not a rarefied experience,” said Murray. “That was very meaningful for me.” 

As Murray plans to start as Chinati’s new executive director — a job which involves overseeing 34 structures, 340 acres, and 20 plus staff members — she has been reacquainting herself with the museum, which not only houses the works of 13 internationally-recognized artists, but also maintains dynamic educational and artists residency programs and more. 

“Even though I have a lot of knowledge and experience of Judd’s work, and have lived and worked in Marfa for the last 15 years, there’s still a lot to learn,” said Murray. “I really want to spend time getting to know the organization, getting to know the people who work there and getting to know the work.” 

When Murray was hired by the Judd Foundation in 2008, the entity was working to develop a research team, catalog raisonné and more. Murray initially helped catalog Judd’s libraries, which she said were particularly interesting due to the artist’s commitment to a diverse range of topics — from architecture and design to activism and environmentalism — reflected in the papers and ephemera he left behind. 

Through her knowledge of the Judd archives, Murray also worked to develop public programs designed to help the general public get to know Judd and the disciplines he was passionate about more broadly, said Murray. Murray used an archival methodology called “original order” — which posits records should be kept in the same order in which they had been placed by their creator —  in order to maintain as much of Judd’s thinking as possible. Her approach was steered by a desire to keep materials open for interpretation, to avoid predetermining anyone’s experience of Judd’s works.

“The other thing about archives I think is really important is, when you’re working on organizing the papers, to really understand that you can’t know all the different ways that people are going to access the materials, the different kinds of questions that they’re going to ask,” said Murray. “So you want to create a situation that’s as open as possible for people to determine their own questions.” 

Murray co-edited Donald Judd Writings (2016) and Donald Judd Interviews (2019) during her tenure at the Judd Foundation and is working on a two-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) funded project to organize and make publicly available the Donald Judd Papers. That project, which Murray will continue to see to fruition even after she departs from the organization in April, is expected to be completed in the fall of 2023. 

While often confused for one another, Judd conceived of the Chinati and Judd foundations as two distinct organizations with different focuses, explained Murray. “Although independent, the two organizations work closely together, Judd Foundation as the artist’s foundation, and Chinati as a contemporary art foundation,” she said. 

Rainer Judd, president, and Flavin Judd, artistic director of the Judd Foundation, further confirmed their father’s original intentions for The Chinati Foundation and wished Murray the best in her new leadership role in a statement to The Big Bend Sentinel.  

“Chinati was founded by Don as an institution which prioritized the art and the artists who made it. With Caitlin’s depth of knowledge and our cooperative efforts, Chinati will continue as a place which, as per Don, exists ‘for the art of this time and place.’ We look forward to working with her in her new role,” they wrote. 

In addition to the recent hiring of a new associate director of development and director of preservation and planning, The Chinati Foundation has recently expanded its visitor offerings to include greater access to the collection. Murray said she hopes to continue the trend of more public accessibility, citing the regular open hours that took place last spring at the newly-restored John Chamberlain building as an example.

Per the museum’s 2017 Master Plan, the restoration of the two artillery sheds, which house Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, is to follow the John Chamberlain project. Murray said she plans to prioritize that effort, working with the board and staff, to preserve what she referred to as an architecturally and artistically significant contribution to the foundation. 

While the Master Plan is something of a living document, subject to change, Murray said she believes the plan will continue to prove useful during her tenure. “I think we will always be revisiting and making sure that the priorities that were established in 2017 make sense for 2023. But I think because of how carefully and considerately it was developed, it really will still hold true as a good roadmap,” said Murray. 

The Chinati Foundation employs many locals and is one of the primary drivers of arts tourism in Marfa. Last year, it received 23,000 visitors, a number which was steadily climbing after pandemic closure lows (In 2019 pre-pandemic, it saw upwards of 49,000 guests). Murray said Judd’s assertion that The Chinati Foundation was a cooperative organization held true to her in regards to the foundation’s role within the community.

“Chinati is a part of the community and should be participating in its development and in its preservation, and in the care for the people who live and work here, and for the beautiful, natural environment in which we’re situated,” said Murray. 

“One of the great things about Chinati is that it does have such an incredibly large group of people who support it and support its well-being. I think that’s also true, of course, for the city of Marfa and I think there’s a lot of overlapping concerns,” she added. 

While there will certainly be unforeseen challenges ahead, Murray said she was looking forward to being a part of the foundation’s legacy and its future, ensuring that it remains a cultural asset for locals and visitors for years to come.

“Focusing on how distinct and important the Chinati Foundation is — both to the Marfa community, but also to the broader international art community — I think that’s what’s really key for me,” said Murray. “The staff and the board, we have a tremendous opportunity to really safeguard and preserve and make accessible this really tremendously interesting and important place.” 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the Chinati Foundation consisted of 3,400 acres and housed the work of 12 international artists. The foundation oversees 340 acres and 13 artists. We regret the errors.