Imagine a tiny town in the high desert of far West Texas. A place that was once established as a water stop, named after a character from a novel, and that is now famous for art installations and mysterious ghost lights. Sounds intriguing? Welcome to the City of Marfa.

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I first heard about this far away place when reading an article about the Prada store in Marfa. Yes, you heard right: Haute Couture in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say, I was hooked and started to dig deeper. And to calm the fashionistas among you down right away: The Prada Marfa is not part of a sophisticated marketing strategy but actually a piece of art. In fact, entire Texas doesn’t have a real Prada store.

Marfa first gained some attention in the 1970s, when minimal artist Donald Judd moved to the city in search of clean settings to display his art in. He had grown frustrated with the crowded New York art scene and Marfa’s wide open spaces in the Texas desert proved to be the right backdrop for his work. Judd bought the decaying remains of abandoned Army hangars and transformed them into a grand scale art gallery. Today visitors driving into Marfa are greeted by numerous art installations in the open, among them giant concrete blocks sitting in the desert and the faux Prada boutique.

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Certainly one of the most popular art installations of Marfa, the Prada store is a permanently installed sculpture by Berlin-based artists Elmgreen and Dragset. The biodegradable adobe building came with a $80,000 price tag and was intended to never be repaired but slowly decay back into the natural landscape. Shoes and handbags displayed in the shop windows are actual Prada wares from the 2005 winter collection. Unfortunately, the building was ransacked shortly after it had been revealed, prompting the artists to replace all exhibitis with bottomless pieces.

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But Marfa has a lot more to offer than this fashionable time capsule. The city is proud to not have a gallery district but to rather be a place where art and inspiration can be found anywhere. The Ballroom Marfa for example is a center for contemporary art and culture, exploring music, film, and performance. To create a space incorporating the arts into the desert landscape, a Drive-In was developed as a place for film screenings, music festivals or opera under the stars.

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Another museum dedicated to contemporary art is the Chinati Foundation, founded by Donald Judd. The exhibits are mostly large-scale installations such as sculptures and paintings, displayed in fifteen buildings spread over a 340 acre (1.3 km²) area. At the center of the Chinati Foundation’s permanent collection are 100 untitled works in aluminum by Donald Judd, installed in former artillery sheds.

The latest addition to the heart of Marfa is Marfa Contemporary, focusing on art and education. Exhibitions are free of charge and feature recent works by regional, national and international artists. Classes and workshops are available year round and open for anyone interested.

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Living up to the name of a funky art captial, Marfa even has its own film festival, the Cinemarfa. Naturally, the festival puts an emphasis on the intersection between film and fine art and features films made by visual artists, as well as rarely screened experimental, documentary, and narrative films. Marfa has been the backdrop for some Hollywood movies itself, with the most recent being No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Aside from Donald Judd and modern art, Marfa is also famous for another phenomenon – the so-called Marfa lights. Those flickering lights of different colors are said to hover above ground at about shoulder height and to move around randomly. The reason for this phenomenon is unknown, however, research suggests that the Marfa lights are atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights and campfires. The annual Marfa Lights Festival serves as a gathering for enthusiast who come together at the official viewing area about 10 miles east of town on Highway 90.

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Roadtripping in Texas? Highway 90 is recommended for a scenic drive to Marfa with a couple of ghost towns along the way. Plan your fuel stops wisely as it’s possible to go almost 200 miles between cities. The nearest airport is in El Paso, 190 miles west.

Photos courtesy of Elaine Huang (#2, 6, 7), Masako Fujinami (#3), Phil Bebbington (#4, 5, 9, 12), Melissa Berry (#8), Marfa Contemporary (#11), and Allison V. Smith / Marfa Contemporary (#10). Photo #1 via Postcard Roundup.

 
Cordula SchaeferCordula Schaefer is a photography enthusiast who loves to venture out to explore new places and hardly ever leaves the house without a camera. A New Yorker at heart, she is especially fond of city trips and has a soft spot for beautiful beachscapes. She currently bases herself in Berlin and keeps the visual documents of her travels at Cordugram.