At the Marfa Invitational, a small art fair for a big world

Look, no everything is bigger in Texas. Marfa, for example, may loom large in the collective imagination – thanks to the efforts of artists like minimalist titan Donald Judd, and more recently independent filmmaker Jill Soloway – but as a city it remains charming and compact, with a population of around 2,000, give or take the several hundred newcomers last weekend for the third annual Marfa Invitational art fair. And it’s a pleasure to report that bigger isn’t always better, even when it comes to the seemingly endless boom in the contemporary art world.

A scene from Cynthia Rowley’s presentation at the Marfa Invitational.Photo: Matteo Prandoni

The Invitational was created in 2019 by artist and curator Michael Phelan and his wife, artistic advisor Melissa Bent, both residents of Marfa. Distilling the art fair experience to its fullest, well, Marfan, it features a small group of exhibitors embracing the natural boundaries of a high desert city that has more Judd museums than pharmacies. (And more alleged alien sightings than both, though that’s another story.) This year’s fair spoke of the city’s position as a place of pilgrimage for the artist or spiritual seeker, with a mix of exhibitions, cocktails, live music and star-studded dinners. all set in the vast, iconic landscape that has inspired creatives for generations – essentially, the best West Texas has to offer. (There was even a fashion show, with cute local cowgirls riding in sequined Cynthia Rowley creations.)

About Margaret L. Portillo

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