At 4th Marfa Invitational Weekend, a more expansive affair emerges

Art critic Jerry Saltz gives a talk and takes questions from a gathered crowd at last weekend’s Marfa Invitational art fair at Saint George Hall. Staff photo by Mary Cantrell.

MARFA — On Thursday evening, at the opening reception of the Fourth Annual Marfa Invitational, VIP guests for an all-inclusive four-day pass to cocktail soirees and private viewings milled about the St. George Hall, gazing at the art that had traversed the globe to be in the desert arts mecca before reclining poolside. 

A total of 10 gallerists from around the world set up booths within the space. Works on view included the surreal mixed-media compositions of Mark Whelan with Over the Influence gallery; colorful, dynamic oil and pastel pieces on large swathes of linen from Cindy Phenix of Nino Mier Gallery; and the bold, highly-stylized portraiture of Koichi Sato of Bill Brady Gallery.

Apart from Thursday night’s opening, the hall was open and free to the public throughout the weekend, as was a talk from featured speaker Jerry Saltz, senior art critic for New York Magazine, and a screening of documentary The Art of Making It. 

The fair is only one part of Michael Phelan’s vision for the future of art in Marfa, where he is now breaking ground on an exhibition hall on the edge of town, a place that will host yearlong programming — artists in residence, exhibitions, performances and more. The annual event, noted Phelan’s wife and co-organizer Melissa Bent, serves as something of a preview for the forthcoming permanent space.

Around town, local events and artists hosted an adjacent Marfa Invitational of sorts — outside of the scope of the official events, but inviting attendees to experience more of what Marfa has to offer. Local artist Julie Speed hosted open studio hours through the weekend. RULE Gallery premiered Sharp Pause, an exhibition of new paintings and drawings by Diego Rodriguez-Warner. Hetzler Marfa chose the start of Marfa Invitational to premiere Indoor Paintings, a solo exhibition of massive paintings by Grace Weaver, created while an artist in residence at the Antelope Hills space. Marfa Book Co. hosted the stained glass window panes of artist Katie Newby.

Artist Krissy Teegerstrom premiered her show EXQUISITE SELF — an exhibition of wearable capes made from secondhand materials — at Wrong Marfa that weekend, her reception taking place on the first day of the Invitational. She felt the momentum of the Invitational had birthed all the surrounding creative output. 

“Once an event establishes itself, then it naturally gets events in response, and I think it’s cool,” said Teegerstrom. “It kind of stirs everything up and gives an inspiration and an impetus for people to do their own thing in response or reaction.”

Teegerstrom’s show is the second phase of an initial pop-up hosted at Do Right Hall, also of wearable capes — a show that had been about “recovering fragments of myself,” she said. The capes she made for this show sprung from the question, what does it mean for the self to be exquisite?

“The way I understand it is, it represents the work I’m doing on self-worth,” she said. “After you get some recovery and some post-traumatic growth, then you can get to work on the self and self-worth. It’s just asking what can you put on that would make you feel special, exquisite, rare, worthy?”

In a small space behind the public library, local artists Leslie Wilkes, Diana Simard and Martha Hughes showcased their paintings at the “Martha Invitational,” a tongue-in-cheek response to the overarching event. Mostly locals came through, they said, though some visitors had been directed by locals to pop in. 

Simard noted that while adjacent events had sprung up in previous years, this one felt more expansive — the number of galleries hosting their own exhibitions had seemingly grown.

“This is the first year that I’ve seen that there were a lot of other things going on, like little satellite events,” said Simard. “The other [Invitationals], it was pretty contained.”

Wilkes agreed — this year’s Invitational weekend felt more lively than previous iterations. There seemed to be more room to do one’s own thing.

“It’s more inclusive now, I think, because of people doing things around town,” she said.

Hughes felt this year’s Invitational was “lighter and more interesting and just all-around better.” She was enthusiastic about the local spaces she’d visited.

“I loved going around town, to Marfa Book Co. I loved the show at Max Hetzler. And I went to Glitch — the show there is beautiful. It was just fun,” she said.

Saltz, the featured speaker, made note of the showings that expanded beyond the Saint George Hall. He had stopped into the Crowley Theater to see the work of Texan artist Elizabeth Hohimer, on display within a pop-up by the Gerald Peters Contemporary gallery. At his Friday talk outside St. George Hall, he gave a shout out to the art of Christopher Blay, chief curator of the Houston Museum of African American Culture, whose daring sculpture — an amalgamation of a slave ship and a spaceship — was housed at The Studios at Crowley Theater, an adjacent newly-opened gallery space.

Saltz spoke of Marfa as an arts destination and its continued evolution as such, beginning with Donald Judd’s breaking off from the New York art world to embed his architectural works in the Far West Texas landscape — a “primary act of contention,” said Saltz.

Of course, Marfa has transformed quite a bit since Judd’s arrival — a fact that also did not go unnoticed by Saltz.

“When you come to Marfa, you’re coming to several places — one is this art anti-mecca that then turned into this mecca,” he said. “That, to me, makes this a site of continued contention, insofar as it’s like flash floods come through Marfa, where you have a lot of money influxing in and building and then dropping off and then building higher and then dropping off and building.”

At The Studios at the Crowley Theater, Blay was pleased to have received a brief visit from Saltz and a public acknowledgment, though his exhibition is not technically part of the Invitational itself. He was the first artist to be showcasing work in the new gallery, where construction was still not quite done. 

He explained that the spaceship structure, made of canvases painted with bodies in close proximity — as a slave ship would have been inhabited — was an exercise in combining the traumatic past with futuristic exploration, creating a third vessel, one that “recognizes the history but propels the history into the future.”

“In my mind, it’s transforming this technology of genocide into this global aspirational movement to outer space,” he said.

When asked how he saw Marfa in the landscape of the art world — the place it holds now, the place it might hold in the future, Blay said it seemed unclear where the desert town lies in the predictable ebb and flow of the fringe becoming mainstream.

“It’s outside of the big scope of art, and then the art world always sort of pivots and says, ‘Oh, what’s that new thing over there, let’s put it under the giant art umbrella.’ The thing that’s sort of on the edge and away from everything else becomes canonized as art until the next mysterious outsider thing is happening, then that gets consumed.”