From the archives: Dan Flavin's untitled (Marfa project)
In celebrating twenty years of untitled (Marfa project)’s presence at Chinati, we also celebrate over forty years of the concept for the work. Conceived in 1979 and commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation, Dan Flavin’s untitled (Marfa project) remained unrealized until October 2000 – twenty-one years later. Neither Donald Judd (1928 – 1994) nor Dan Flavin (1933 -1996) lived to see the work realized, but the presence of a significant work by Flavin was central to Judd’s vision for Chinati.
Untitled (Marfa project) inhabits six buildings on the site of the former Fort D.A. Russell — a military installation that evolved throughout the twentieth century. Eleven U-shaped barracks were constructed in 1920 to house cavalry soldiers, and Dan Flavin’s work at Chinati inhabits the southern six.
In Chinati’s archives, records of the Flavin project coalesce around two compressed periods of heightened activity, separated by fifteen years of relative inactivity.
The first period of activity took place during the early 1980s when the project was administered and funded by the Dia Art Foundation. Throughout 1980 and 1981 the buildings were stabilized and a Marfa-based crew experimented with methods and materials for realizing the piece. In August 1981 work halted and administrative, financial, and interpersonal dynamics stopped progress until 1996, when Flavin finalized the design and issued certificates of authentication, enabling work to resume.
The second period of activity came during the late 1990s during the directorship of Marianne Stockebrand. During this period the finalized design was executed and the work was inaugurated on October 7, 2000. Between August 1999 and October 2000, Ford, Powell & Carson Architects renovated the six Flavin buildings internally and externally, enabling Flavin’s studio assistants to install the long-anticipated piece according to his specifications.
1920 June: The U-shaped barracks buildings are constructed for troops stationed at Camp Marfa, a cavalry post.
1937 April: The barracks are changed to “Artillery Barracks”, reflecting the post’s staged transition from a cavalry installation to Fort D.A. Russell, an army base housing field artillery units.
1979: Dan Flavin signs a contract with the Dia Art Foundation commissioning the “creation of twelve (12) works of art, corridors of fluorescent light […] to be installed inside six (6) consecutive former barracks buildings”.
1980: Throughout the Spring and Summer, the roofs are replaced on the U-shaped barracks intended for Flavin’s work.
1981 March: Dan Flavin, Tiffany Bell, and Robert Skolnik travel to Marfa to inspect the buildings and refine construction and renovation plans.
1981 May – July: Barracks #6 (now Flavin 1) is developed as a “test barracks” in which the windows are enclosed and the interior is plastered (among other alterations).
1981 August 21: Donald Judd stops all work on Barracks #6, citing a lack of authorization, supervision, and direction from Dan Flavin.
July 1983 – January 1984: The crew boards up exterior windows on the Flavin barracks (with the exception of the two sets of east-facing windows on each building) and the exteriors are plastered.
1996 Spring: Dan Flavin stipulates the details of untitled (Marfa project) and signs the certificates that authenticate the work.
1996 Fall & Winter: Architectural firm Ford, Powell & Carson and Chinati staff draft plans for renovating the buildings according to Flavin’s specifications and begin fundraising.
1999 May: Construction drawings and engineering reports are completed and contractors’ bids are accepted and reviewed.
1999 Summer: The team is assembled and includes Supervising Architects Chris Carson and John Gutzler of Ford, Powell & Carson (San Antonio) and Project Manager James Cooke from Alpine with his crew of 12 workmen.
1999 August 20: Demolition begins.
2000 April 3: Installation of the fixtures begins.
2000 October 7: Dan Flavin’s untitled (Marfa project) is inaugurated during Open House, over twenty years after its initial conception.
2001: Chinati holds the symposium “Light in Art & Architecture: The Work of Dan Flavin”.
2013: First replacement of all 336 lamps.
2021: Replacement of all 336 lamps and ballasts, electrical upgrades, and historical window restoration on all six buildings.