May 3, 2023 821 PM
MARFA — The Fourth Annual Marfa Invitational, a contemporary art fair that brings artists and gallerists from across the globe to showcase their work in the remote arts destination, will kick off on Thursday — as founder Michael Phelan’s pledge to bring a permanent outpost for his foundation to the outskirts of town comes closer to fruition.
The spring festival’s lineup from the nonprofit Marfa Invitational Foundation includes New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz as featured speaker, a screening of art world documentary The Art of Making It, and the host of visiting exhibitors who will be on display at St. George Hall throughout the four-day event — all of which will be open to the public.
VIP ticket holders will have access to exclusive cocktail receptions, dinners, artist talks and private home exhibitions. VIP tickets are $600 for visitors and $300 for tri-county residents.
The Marfa Invitational held its inaugural fair in 2019, and ever since has welcomed guests to Marfa from around the country and as far as Berlin and Hong Kong, said Phelan, “filling the town to capacity.” The fair was canceled twice in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic but returned in 2021 with a robust crowd. The influx of visitors fills the town’s hotels and short-term rentals for the weekend, as local shops see an uptick in business.
Phelan said he sees the unifying power of art as central to the “ethos” of the returning festival.
“The overarching ethos of this year’s edition is the spirit of collaboration and the belief in the power of art to bring people together, fostering communication and understanding,” said Phelan. “Or as the Hindi proverb goes: ‘One and one make eleven.’ Meaning of course, ‘Unity is strength.’”
Beyond the annual fanfair, this year’s festival signals a significant step towards Phelan’s more permanent vision — to construct a physical destination for the foundation at the edge of town on Hwy 90 and Golf Course Road, which will host artists in residence and host exhibitions and performances year-round.
Phelan first announced his plan to construct a home for the foundation in Marfa in 2021, as he prepared to host the Invitational’s second-ever festival. At the time, he told the New York Times, construction on the site was expected to wrap up that fall and open its doors shortly thereafter.
But supply chain delays had stalled the project’s construction, Phelan told The Big Bend Sentinel last year, as the project still had yet to commence. The Marfa Invitational was hoping to receive construction materials by the fall of 2022, he said.
Now, it seems work on the site will soon be underway. In an email to The Sentinel, Phelan said that construction on the anticipated “Exhibition Pavilion” is expected to begin this year, with a small, ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony intersecting with this year’s fair.
The campus is being funded by unnamed donors, and the foundation’s programming will be funded by state and national grant money and by an upcoming “capital campaign,” said Phelan.
Though Phelan has previously said that the space would be funded by the Invitational’s “VIP Benefit Program” of earnings from VIP ticket sales — as the foundation’s website and ticket portal has stated — the foundation has now pivoted to using those funds to cover the cost of hosting the actual event.
“The Benefit Program allows/provides for all exhibitions and events (this year- Jerry Saltz and The Art of Making It) to be Free of Charge to the Public,” wrote Phelan in an email.
The cost of running the fair was so high, VIP ticket sales were used to cover those operational expenses, explained Melissa Bent, Phalen’s wife and co-organizer, who characterized the annual fair as a teaser of sorts for the upcoming foundation space.
“It was a wash, but it basically proved that people would come — people would want to spend time here, and as a little microcosm for what the foundation would be, which would be like a yearly ongoing program,” she said.
The campus site currently serves as an outdoor sculpture grounds, now home to the works of artists Polly Borland, Szabolcs Bozó and Myles Nurse.
A full list of exhibitors can be found at https://www.marfainvitational.com/invitational.
A schedule of events is included below:
IN CONVERSATION: JERRY SALTZ
Saint George Hall | Judd Tables
Friday, May 5
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
MARFA INVITATIONAL PREMIERE
THE ART OF MAKING IT
Saturday, May 6
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Nino Mier Gallery | LA, NYC, Brussels, and Marfa
Solo Exhibition of Andrea Heimer at Mier’s Marfa Gallery:
Friday, May 5
4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Nino Mier | Marfa
218 Highland St
Marfa, TX 79843
Exhibition Hours at St. George Hall are Friday, May 5, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday, May 6, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 7, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.