In this issue, Texas Highways celebrates the Big Bend region, where legend and lore demand a larger-than-life share of our collective imagination. The Big Bend magic springs from the amazing geography that makes it both tough and attractive. The rugged way of life creates an inviting challenge, and the personalities become tougher and more eccentric to match the land.

Even considering the diverse characters that influence the Big Bend’s identity, none is more enigmatic than Donald Judd. His legacy is an essential component of the Marfa mystique, and the gleaming, fabricated metal work on permanent display at the Chinati Foundation leaves many casual visitors wondering how to interpret the experience.

On a recent visit, as an extension of a symposium called DesignMarfa, I was able to gain a renewed appreciation of the artist and his work. I joined a guided tour of “The Block,” the two-story house and pair of arched-roof warehouses Judd called home. The buildings sit in a walled compound that occupies an entire block, and everything remains exactly as when Judd left for the last time before his untimely death in 1994.

The cavernous spaces in the warehouses are filled with Judd’s geometric forms. I asked tour guide Eugene Binder for his perspective on the significance of an artist like Judd living with his work on such a grand scale.

“Judd was emphatic about the concept of a permanent installation, ” Binder says.

Also, about the work itself. Binder explains that Judd worked primarily with a pad and pen to draw the pieces that were fabricated elsewhere by skilled
craftspeople. So he didn’t build the precision-fabricated boxes himself. “‘Conceptual’ is the word that’s most appropriate,” Binder says. “He believed that artists in the United States, with its relatively short history, should not be fettered by the European traditions of art-making.”

So, one essential aspect of Judd’s work is breaking from tradition. That’s an idea that works well in Texas generally and Marfa specifically. And it’s an ideal start for planning a trip to one of the destinations in the Big Bend region. Each visit to the mountainous, wide-open, arid landscape yields new insights and new perspectives, both literal and figurative.

Maybe the answer is that you finally learn to build your own myth. There’s no better starting point than the Big Bend.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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