At the edge of the Central Time zone, the sun in West Texas rises later than many other parts of the country. A sunrise viewing of Donald Judd’s 100 Works in Mill Aluminum (1982-1986) begins shortly after seven o’clock in the early August morning. The cornerstone of the Chinati Foundation is the two artillery sheds located in Marfa and one has time to slip away from the Marfa Lights Viewing Center east of town to catch the sunrise here. Also significant are the 15 untitled works in concrete (1980–1984) with a hill at the southern terminus allowing viewers to watch the interplay of architecture, light and shadow throughout the structures and day.
Although the sunrise viewing session is available periodically throughout the year, an emphasis on “Watch Day” has been added with the Chinati’s addition to World Monuments Watch List earlier this year. Judd’s project becomes one of six locations in the United States to be included on this list, specifically the artillery sheds and Chinati’s efforts in conservation of Judd’s seminal work there.
Pictures may speak a thousand words but to experience the sheds in the light of dawn is an event that cannot be lived vicariously through images. This was undoubtedly a major property of Judd’s vision as an artist and self-proclaimed empiricist. The phenomenological effect of this personal experience of time, space and, most especially, color rely on the presence of the individual moving throughout the space, catching the infinite angles, gradients and planes of color that construct the actual space.
At the time of viewing just before sunrise, Judd’s aluminum structures sit serenely is the dull blue-violet-grey atmosphere, becoming active illusions with the grey concrete of the floor. The desert mirage comes to mind with the metallic quality as heat rises from the ground, blending desert floor with sky at the horizon. As much as Judd rejected the use of illusion in Western art throughout the ages, its denial in the rooms is unfathomable, found especially in those structures with diagonal elements terminating towards the floor. This affect is hardly minimized as the sun reaches the horizon, scattering colorful beams of West Texas light throughout the space.
As the sun rises further, colors are reflected from the aluminum surfaces from the red brick walls, green vegetation, blue skies and yellow-orange sunrays and anything else caught in between. Gradients meet and mix with solid planes of color on the edges of aluminum in a natural array that becomes environment as much as the architecture and sculpture that frames the space. Even the slight lines of the aluminum edges add to the composition, drawing dimensional “zips” into the color fields.
Taking this experience into consideration with Judd’s extreme attention to detail, this sunrise viewing seems critical to a complete understanding of Judd’s oeuvre and investigations. The structures and space is at constant change with the outdoor environment, especially the position of the sun. That the eastern side of the sheds is largely open, exposing the horizon at dawn and with the crucial element of color, is an important part of the sunrise viewing experience. There is no documentation of this specific details according to Judd, possibly as a way of diverting accusations of sentimentality but is more likely was seen as simply one element of the entire experience as ran from dawn to dusk. There is a power in observation of this particular moment of sunrise though, aided by the change that there are perhaps a dozen people in the room at the same time.
The last sunrise viewing scheduled for 2014 is during Chinati Weekend on Sunday, October 12 with a sunset viewing on Friday, November 28.
Upcoming events at Chinati Weekend include the scheduled opening of Larry Bell’s, 6×6 an improvisation with an artist talk at Crowley Theatre and additional viewings of Robert Irwin’s Cool School, Zoe Leonard’s 100 North Nevill Street, work by artist in residence, Daniel Turner and a performance by Polyphonic Spree. All events are free and open to the public.
By Jake Weigel