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The Magic of Marfa

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Rainer Judd spoke with Fairweather magazine’s publisher, Alexandra Fairweather, abouther new screenplay—basedon her childhood growing upwith her father, renowned artist Donald Judd, and mother, dancer Julie Finch. Not to mention the definition of art, the rewards of establishing the Judd Foundation, and how much fun it was recently drawing on the walls of the Ace Hotel in London.

"It was wonderful to be in Marfa for three-and-a-half weeks,” explains NYC native Rainer Judd about her recent trip to the city in the high desert located in West Texas approxi- mately 200 miles southeast of El Paso.

“I started going to Marfa when I was two years old,” reflects Judd. In the early 1970s, her father, artist Donald Judd, acquired property in Marfa and the ranch lands of the Presidio County as well as several buildings in town in order to exhibit permanent installations of his work and art he collected. “I do remember the view from the airplane being

so distinct—the contrast with NYC, where you see all those buildings, and it’s just people, people, people. Then you see the desert and there’s not a single house that you can see from the plane. And I remember starting to really love the contrast of me in a place with no one in it and then me with millions of people.”

When asked how she would describe Marfa to someone who has never visited before, she explains, “It’s like an island that is not surrounded by water, it is surrounded by high desert. It changes your sense of time; it differently shifts you in terms of your sense of scale with the natural world and the night sky. It has this incredible ability to empower you and humble you at the same time. There’s some- body to talk to if you really need someone to talk to, and you will meet people that you are meant to meet, because it’s magical in that way, just like how NYC has synchronicity. But it’s also a character test of sorts: If you like being with yourself then you really like it there, since there’s time to reflect.”


Donald Judd’s living and working spaces, including his residence, art studio, architecture studio, library, archives, and range office, reflect the magical influence of Marfa that his daughter prizes. The spaces are managed by the Judd Foundation, which Rainer and her brother, Flavin, serve on the board of in order to restore, preserve and promote the legacy of their father.

Rainer Judd reflects on the challenges and rewards of establishing the foundation: “The challenges in the beginning years were of a financial-strategy kind, and I feel for every artist foundation that has to deal with that particular challenge. Now that we’ve moved past that initial phase, I get to enjoy the rewards, and one of them has been working with my brother and our board members and staff. A few things have evolved—one is my own relationship with leading and leadership and how I engage with the foundation and my brother. I think children of artists and heirs take on that kind of responsibility because they feel that it’s their duty, without questioning how they can be happy in it. But when we do things that make us happy—as this foundation makes me—we excite other people.”


Last year, the Judd Foundation, after a major renovation project at Judd’s studio and home in NYC at 101 Spring Street, opened the space to the public. And while Rainer Judd still views the building as her home, she has found it to be wonderful to open the space to a wider audience. In particular, she has enjoyed seeing students visit the space. She laughs, reflecting on how the children probably think her former home looks so bizarre, wondering “’what is this? And why does this exist and what was this guy thinking?’” Rainer Judd is very excited that opening the space to the public will probably not only raise “some good questions in people’s minds” but also hopefully inspire people to go visit Texas.

Since 2006, the Judd Foundation has also developed The Oral History Project. The project has interviewed 100 individuals from the creative communities of which Donald Judd was a part in Soho, New York, and Marfa, Tex- as. Rainer Judd found it particularly interesting how everyone who did an interview seemed to have something they wanted to say. “They understood that it is a moment to tell a story or go on record and really reveal a story what it is that they think is important in the world and life and living in art and their experiences with Judd and the community of Soho,” she says.


Rainer has also been reflecting on her own past as she completes a fictional screenplay based on the events in her life. “It is based on events in my childhood and the amazing people that were a part of raising me; it’s told through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl named Luna,” she explains. She considers her process of making the film as “long-form magic making,” which embodies the idea of making “something that holds your attention.” She continues, “I feel really excited, and it’s been an incredible learning process to take stories and bring something together and make something hold. It’s like making a gift to yourself and putting it into one package.” As she has crafted her screenplay, she has realized, “It’s a way to not only pay homage to those incredible people but to your own recollections. You get to have it as a time vault or even better to take the harder stuff in life and make something poetic and beautiful out of it. I think that’s why we like artists. You take the good and the bad and you elevate it to something that is universal for everyone.”

Artists have always played a unique role in society. Rainer points to a recent Willie Nelson song: “He sings that he told his mother he was dealing drugs, and she replies ‘Thank God you ain’t writing songs.’ It’s a beautiful ode to the artist.” She explains, “It’s kind of like how rascals are treated in society; either you get them and appreciate their existence for being the rebels or just distain them and judge them, but it’s such a great role to be the creatures that bring out people’s judgment; it’s what brings about people’s evolution.”

Rainer explains how she was always very interested in film. She notes, “It is interesting I know a lot of other Soho kids who were really interested in film... to be in such an interesting environment, it’s almost like you need to integrate interesting subjects, to be so stimulated as a is a medium that allows you to bring other mediums that you are exposed to together.” She continues, “the visual language has been attractive for me, but it has taken a long time for me to be conscious that I was so visual.” The Soho environment surrounded by artists was an incredible atmosphere filled with creativity. Rainer and her friends called themselves the EDKs, the eccentric downtown kids. The group were good friends as teenagers and would often cater Donald Judd’s dinner parties. “I think it was while eating loaded down sundaes at three in the morning after catering the party, debating whether we would sneak out and go clubbing or go to bed. We had conversations; we were so snobby, if a party was happening above 14th street, we wouldn’t go. It was just the name that fit, EDKs, there were probably four or five of us. My dad would give us a few bucks for pulling together a pretty amazing meal. We were quite adventurous unbeknownst to my dad at that time...excellent with the incredible clubbing scene with the Beastie Boys and Def Jam... places like Milky Way that were off the map hip hop clubs; there probably were drugs going on, but we were teenagers and we were interested in the music. There was this love of great music and dancing.”

Donald Judd always said to his daughter, “You don’t realize how dangerous it is out on the streets,” and “I probably didn’t,” reflects Rainer, who moved back to NYC from Marfa when she was 13 years old, “but I also felt I had a certain amount of street smarts and I felt New York was my territory.”

Today, as Rainer goes back and forth between NYC and Marfa, she notes that Marfa has not changed very much, at least not the landscape, which is the most important aspect to her. “The population is still around 2,000, so if you were graphing it, there is different stuff to eat therenow, and I think the eight or so people that you might have dinner with have rotated a bit and some really special people of the community that I grew up with and have grown up with have passed, but overall there hasn’t been a big shift for me. It’s one of the special things about it; some buildings still have the same paint. It’s not that different. You still have to drive two hours to the airport or for a medical emergency, a lot of things haven’t changed.”


When asking Rainer about her definition of art, she explains, “I think I have a drawing that says, ‘I can’t stand some people’s art, but I can’t live without mine,’ but, I also feel like it’s something I’ve got to do. I don’t feel like I would be a good person to be around if I wasn’t making it in some form, myself. She recently did an incredible project at the Ace Hotel in London, where she drew on the walls of one of the suites.

Rainer continues her thoughts on the definition of art, “Maybe it’s similar to what Gandhi said about God; I don’t mean to make that direct connotation. I remember when I was 18 trying to figure out religion since my dad was an atheist and I was just kind of always going to different churches and for myself was trying to get a hold of what religion was and Gandhi said about God, “I feel It though I do not see It.” And I love that. It is just so democratic, whatever it is to you, so maybe art is like that, you know that thing, yeah, that thing you can’t live without. Whether you are one of the people that take it in all of the time or one of those sweet souls that are a little bit more sensitive that can’t take that much in, it’s that thing you can’t live without.”

To learn more about the Donald Judd Foundation and its programs in Marfa and New York City, visit