A small town in the vast desert of West Texas, Marfa attracts visitors from around the world to its art foundations and galleries, film and music festivals, and design and architecture symposiums. While newcomers sometimes see it as “another Santa Fe,” long-time residents often take a bemused, even disapproving attitude toward the changes that Marfa has undergone since artist Donald Judd came to town in the 1970s and began creating spaces for his own and other artists’ work. They remember when ranching and the military formed the basis of the town’s economy, even as they acknowledge that tourist dollars are now essential to Marfa’s sustainability.
Marfa tells an engaging story of how this isolated place became a beacon in the art world, like the famous Marfa Lights that draw curious spectators into the West Texas night. As Kathleen Shafer delves into the town’s early history, the impact of Donald Judd, the expansion of arts programming, and the increase in tourism, she unlocks the complex interplay between the particularities of the place, the forces of commerce and growth, the textures of local culture and tradition, and the transformative role of artists and creative work. Bookending her story between two iconic artworks—the whimsical Prada Marfa and the crass Playboy Marfa—Shafer illuminates the shifting cultural landscape of Marfa, showing why this place has become a mecca for so many and how the influx of newcomers has transformed its character.