Pre-Chinati Era: Dan Flavin's untitled (Marfa project)

Prior to its establishment as an independent non-profit, the Chinati Foundation was administered by the Dia Art Foundation and called “the Marfa Project” or “the Art Museum of the Pecos”. During this time, Marfa-based staff sent bi-weekly or monthly activity reports back to Dia’s New York-based staff to communicate the progress of various projects that were underway on Dia’s Marfa properties. These reports provide granular visibility into the development of the art, architecture, and land that became Chinati.

During the Dia years, progress on Dan Flavin’s installation was uneven, and work stopped almost completely in 1981. This brief period of activity is outlined here through excerpts from the contemporaneous activity reports and other materials from Chinati’s archives.

To learn more about Chinati’s archival holdings related to Dan Flavin’s untitled (Marfa project), see our finding aid. For inquiries, please email

Fort D.A. Russell

The six U-shaped buildings that now comprise Dan Flavin’s untitled (Marfa project) were constructed in 1920 as barracks for cavalry officers posted at what was then called Camp Marfa. In 1930, the cavalry post was renamed Fort D.A. Russell and, in 1932, a building survey was performed to create records of every structure on the base. These records include a photo of each building, structural details, and a log in which all repairs and activities were recorded. Through this process of ongoing documentation, these building records became valuable historical records for each structure. 

Below are the building records for each of the Flavin barracks.

Flavin 1 (Fort D.A. Russell Building No. 19)

Flavin 2 (Fort D.A. Russell Building No. 20)

Flavin 3 (Fort D.A. Russell Building No. 21)

Flavin 4 (Fort D.A. Russell Building No. 22)

Flavin 5 (Fort D.A. Russell Building No. 23)

Flavin 6 (Fort D.A. Russell Building No. 24)

1979 - Dia Contract

In May 1979, Dan Flavin signed a contract with the Dia Art Foundation to renovate several buildings on the grounds of the former Fort D.A. Russell. The contract defines the work (the “services to be rendered”) using the following three criteria:Page 2 of Dan Flavin's contract with Dia

1980 Spring & Summer

In April 1980 the Marfa-based staff sent their first activity report to Dia’s New York office, beginning a regular reporting practice that would continue for approximately four years.

Code Key

In the first report, a code key was created for the various structures and properties relevant to the activity reports:

Building Numbers

Originally, Dan Flavin’s work was planned for buildings 5 – 10, rather than 6 – 11, which it occupies today. 

Note: The map above is inverted, showing the southern buildings at the top, and the northern buildings at the bottom.  

In April 1980, Donald Judd approved the “materials/workmanship” to re-roof buildings 7B – 10B, which were all reserved for Flavin’s project. This roofing work was the central activity in these buildings throughout the spring and summer of 1980.

April 1980

May-August 1980 – Roofing continues

1980 Fall

During the fall, the roofs were completed by October, after which no activity is reported until January. 

September 1980

October 1980

Because construction and fabrication was happening for multiple concurrent projects at this time, periods of inactivity like this are not unusual.

1981 Winter

In the winter of 1981, work focused on preparing drawings of the buildings for Dan Flavin, who was planning an early spring visit to Marfa to meet and review progress and plans. 
January 1981

February 1981

This visit is the first and only visit by Flavin mentioned in the activity reports.

1981 Spring - Dan Flavin visits Marfa

Flavin and his team were on-site for three days at the end of March 1981. 
March 1981

Upon returning from Marfa, Tiffany Bell shared a memo with Eileen Wells at Dia summarizing some of the discussions and decisions regarding untitled (Marfa project).

April 1981 Memo

1981 Summer - the "Flavin Test Barracks"

Summer 1981 Work Plan

Donald Judd spent the summer of 1981 abroad and left behind a detailed work plan for the Marfa-based staff and crews. The plan identifies the Flavin project as first priority, outlining work to be done on the buildings’ exteriors: 

June 1981

In the June activity report, the work reported does not adhere to the work plan, describing interior plastering of the ceilings and walls in Barracks 6 (now Flavin 1). This work contradicts a specific note in the work plan that plastering should be done on the outside only, pending further direction from Flavin about his preferences for the interiors.

July 1981

In July’s report, Barrack #6 is now referred to as “Flavin Test Barracks”, and further interior plasterwork is reported. 

August 1981
In August 1981, Donald Judd returned to Marfa and immediately halted the work being done on the “Flavin Test Barracks”: 

The activity report for August included two attached letters – one from Willie Null, the project’s general administrator, and one from Donald Judd.  

Willie Null’s letter

Donald Judd’s letter

Following the cessation of work on Flavin’s barracks and these two letters, no meaningful work beyond closing up the windows (ca. 1983) is reported in the activity reports.

1987 October - Dia Grant

In October 1987, the Dia Art Foundation and Donald Judd finalized a grant through which Dia transferred all properties, structures, and commissioned works of the Marfa Project to a newly incorporated independent non-profit established by Donald Judd called the Chinati Foundation. This grant provisioned for the completion of one of the six barracks for Dan Flavin’s unrealized work: