Restore the Land and Judd’s Plantings

At Chinati, the land is an important component in the experience of the permanent collection. It includes a number of landscapes planted by Judd. The master plan provides analysis and guidance for Chinati to continue to protect the land and to instill new practices that can bring it to an even healthier state.

Recommended actions for restoring the land at the Chinati Foundation.
Recommended actions for restoring the land at the Chinati Foundation.

Restoration and conservation of Judd landscapes

Several of Judd’s plantings position his work, such as the 15 untitled works in concrete, within an existing vegetation community. As living organisms, these plants have changed over time, responding to circumstances and events. In cases where the plants have died or are in poor health, they should be replanted and restored to preserve Judd’s intent.

The following restoration projects of Judd landscapes are a high priority:

  • Pinyon pine trees at the Arena: Judd planted a grid of twelve pinyon pine trees on the east side of the building. Today, six have been lost and need to be replaced. Chinati should infill the existing gaps in the grid of pines and install irrigation to support their management.
  • Cottonwood trees along the eastern site boundary: East of the 15 untitled works in concrete, Judd planted a row of cottonwood trees that run parallel to a small creekbed, which proved to be an insufficient source of water. The irrigation system was broken for a period of time and many of the cottonwoods have died or are currently in poor health. The cottonwoods that were planted are native to North America but are not adapted to the region. Chinati should develop and undertake a successional planting plan to replace the dying cottonwoods with the similar but more resilient species, Rio Grande Cottonwood (Populus deltoides ssp. Wislizeni). Ideally, the replanting should move the trees closer to the creek to allow the trees to access water when available there.
  • Prairie surrounding the 15 untitled works in concrete: The prairie around these works has been degraded by construction and art-conservation activities and the introduction of non-local soil. This has led to bare soil and an influx of pioneer species, both of which distract from the visual integrity of the work and will continue to spread if not treated. The area should be restored in phases to re-establish the grass community.
  • Sotols at the John Chamberlain Building: Judd’s gridded planting of sotols at the John Chamberlain Building has fared well, and some of the plants are reaching maturity. Consistent replanting and better maintenance of the gravel ground cover will restore and preserve the sotol grid. When there is a need for new, mature sotols to infill gaps that emerge in the coming years, they can be either located through a local nursery relationship or grown elsewhere on the Chinati property. 

Approach to trails

Chinati visitors experience the museum by navigating a network of sidewalks and many informal trails that have emerged organically over years of use. These informal paths guide visitors deeper into the land and shape how they view the art and architecture. However, recurring pedestrian traffic in the prairie landscape gradually disrupts the grassland ecology, which creates more favorable conditions for emergent species like the acacia and other disturbance-adapted species. This acacia persistently creates more bare ground and visually disrupt the intended prairie view. The acacia should be systematically and regularly removed to restore views from the paths.

The master plan suggests the addition of a few new trail connections that support the existing experience and circulation at Chinati. By formalizing these additional trails, pedestrian traffic can be managed throughout the land, minimizing disturbance over time. These links include a new path between the southernmost barrack and the southern end of Judd’s works in concrete, which also opens up new views.

Restoration of the land and planting at Donald Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete.
Restoration of the land and planting at Donald Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete.

Approach to courtyards

The courtyards within the former barracks, the Arena, the John Chamberlain Building, the Robert Irwin building, and the Locker Plant are intentional outdoor spaces that provide moments of respite and usable exterior space. In some cases, they comprise an artwork and are integral to the art within the building. Each courtyard has a slightly different pattern of use, which is reflected in its layout and condition. The accessible and more heavily used courtyards show areas of bare or compacted soil and unhealthy vegetation. The health of the trees and plants should be addressed in the near term, to stabilize the courtyard landscapes. This will include covering exposed tree roots with additional soil, replanting bare soil areas, and removing dead or invasive plant material.

Increase ecological health

Chinati can undertake the following methods to enhance the diversity of plant life and improve the site’s ecological health:

  • Local plant/seed sourcing and proper storage: There are several regional nurseries that can provide local, native plant species which are typically suited to the varied climate of the Chihuahuan desert and will require minimal irrigation and maintenance.
  • Periodic light seeding: Light pasture seeding typically allows for quick germination and regrowth of grasses, and is less energy and time intensive than other interventions. The targeted plants to increase are the midgrasses, which are currently found on the former fort grounds, but in low numbers due to disturbance.
  • Periodic patrol and spot treatment or hand removal of invasive/problematic species: Invasive vegetation management can include chemical and physical tools for removal. This should be coupled with reseeding to ensure coverage of areas where invasive species are removed.
  • Incorporate periodic disturbance: Prescribed burns and grazing are both effective methods to limit/manage invasive species and to encourage new growth patterns through organic, locally appropriate methods. The re-introduction of periodic disturbance into the Chinati landscape can increase vegetation diversity, increase herbaceous cover and water infiltration, reduce erosion, support wildlife, reduce large wildfire fuel loads, and create a more resilient system that can adapt to varying climatic conditions. 

Brush management

Brush management will reduce encroaching woody plants, specifically the whitethorn acacia (Vachellia constricta), and help restore and maintain native grassland. The master plan recommends reducing brush cover to less than twenty percent of the site to allow for new prairie growth while still providing beneficial habitat for wildlife. Brush management along access roads and trails may require the entire removal of encroaching species for access and visibility reasons.

Natural area restoration

In addition to brush reduction, natural area restoration practices should also include herbaceous species restoration. The downed brush or “slash” from removing brush is an effective ground cover to increase water infiltration and enable regrowth of low and midgrasses. While ground work and brush removal are underway, seeding or plug planting with local, native vegetation should also occur. The seeding mix should be primarily early successional species that will germinate and provide cover quickly.

Disturbed area restoration

This conservation practice focuses on reducing the impacts of disturbance and restoring the ecological functions on the site in highly disturbed areas. It includes reseeding or plug planting in areas of bare ground or erosion areas and soil work to reduce compaction. Around buildings, temporary irrigation can be used for establishment. Frequent patrol and treatment of invasive species should be undertaken during establishment, especially while using temporary irrigation and amended soils that make conditions more favorable for problematic species like Johnsongrass.

Fire and flood management

The Texas A&M Forest Service’s Wildfire Risk Assessment lists the majority of the Chinati Foundation’s land as a low to moderate intensity fire risk. The land is comprised of fast-burning grasses and there is a higher fire intensity risk along the cottonwood and elm riparian corridor. The master plan recommends a three zone mowing strategy which includes the area directly around buildings, a buffer along roads and roadway access, and barrack courtyard dripline accompanied with dethatching. In general (for ecological health), best practices are to mow only when needed, to mow when grass reaches three inches or higher, and to mow after seed has been produced and fallen to the ground.