August 26, 2015

The Marvels of Marfa: Inde/Jacobs by Claesson Koivisto Rune

When Donald Judd moved in 1971 to Marfa, a remote West Texas ranching town grinding into dust, it was to install his massive purist sculptures with supersize helpings of space around. He repurposed a decommissioned military base on 340 acres, converting some of its buildings into permanent exhibition halls. Then he invited Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, and other artist friends, who felt squeezed by New York’s galleries, to lodge works there as well.

Judd died in 1994 but never really left. He is still Marfa’s presiding genius in the same way Philip Johnson’s ghost floats around the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Except that Marfa is a work in progress. The town of roughly 2,000 continues to be shaped by artists, designers, and entrepreneurs balancing its rancher heritage with Judd’s taste for modern austerity. “They even sell bumper stickers in the local bookstore that say What Would Donald Judd Do?” Eero Koivisto reports. Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects came all the way from Stockholm to complete a project there.

A combined art gallery and residence, Inde/Jacobs was a decade in the making. In 2005, Vilis Inde and Tom Jacobs were selling art out of a former Volkswagen repair shop, a metal shed, but already had ambitions to tear it down and replace it with a new building when Koivisto, Mårten Claesson, and Ola Rune stopped by. (They had made the Marfa pilgrimage after lecturing at the University of Texas at Austin.) A friendship was struck, and a plan evolved for a slender single-story rectangle in stucco, containing a 2,000-square-foot gallery in front, a walled courtyard in the middle, and a 1,100-square-foot apartment at the rear. But the planning stage was as far as things got for a long time, as the ensuing global economic crisis made itself felt even in otherworldly Marfa. Now that Inde/Jacobs is finally open, it has the double distinction of being the first custom-designed commercial building to rise in the town in memory—as opposed to, say, the local Dairy Queen—and of being Claesson Koivisto Rune’s first completed project on American soil.

The structure is certainly distinct from the neighboring patched adobe houses of what has become a modest gallery district, but the design is the opposite of flashy. One of the short sides of the rectangle faces the street, and the length extends back through the property—deliberately playing with perspective. The roof furthermore slopes down at an almost imperceptible angle from front to back, while the doors and windows get smaller. As a result, the sidewalls look longer than their 115 feet, an illusion reinforced by yet another gentle deception: A wall ostensibly following the property line actually angles slightly inward as if receding into infinity. “People are drawn in without knowing why,” Inde says, adding that the subliminal effect is consistent with Judd. “He was not about hitting someone over the head with a hammer. When he does 100 aluminum boxes, there are subtle differences between the boxes, and it requires looking.”

Inside the gallery, which sells works by Judd, Flavin, and their Marfa cohort as well as several contemporary neo-minimalists, close observation is likewise rewarded. Nothing could be simpler—until you consider the two highly intelligent interventions. The first, descending from the ceiling but not quite meeting the concrete floor, is a white box with one open side, which creates a contemplative room-within-a-room as well as extra display surfaces on the exterior. The second, which rises from the floor but doesn’t quite meet the ceiling, is enclosed on all four sides to accommodate a restroom and storage. What’s more, these volumes’ placement defines discrete zones, allowing Inde and Jacobs to highlight individual artists’ works and to conceal an office niche.

Sight lines across the central courtyard are equally meticulously thought out. A view from one side terminates at a blank wall on the other, so the gallery and the apartment each seems to enjoy its own outdoor space. The gridded surface of the courtyard, where Clifford and Kriksis, the resident dogs, like to sprawl in the sun, was inspired by Marfa’s military fort turned riding arena, eventually renovated by Judd, who left the concrete strips supporting the original wooden floor in place and filled the gaps with gravel. “It gives you a connection between indoor and outdoor,” Claesson says. Koivisto’s gaze, meanwhile, is drawn upward especially at dusk, when the courtyard’s walls frame a square of deep blue recalling the Skyspaces of James Turrell.

The resemblance to Turrell is serendipity, whereas the conversation with Judd is always murmuring in the background. A copper chair by the master sits in the gallery, and complementary custom furnishings range from a desk lamp in folded anodized aluminum to a stool that the architects nicknamed the Marfa Twist. “We stained it black, so it wouldn’t be like Judd,” Koivisto says. What Would Donald Judd Do? Rune speculates: “He would have made it in firewood—and left it.”

Project Resources>>

Project Team

Deta Koivisto Gemzell; Patrick Coan; Kumi Nakagaki; Louis Bahrton: Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects. Jim Martinez & Associates: Landscaping Consultant. Glass House: Glasswork. Marginot Builders: General Contractor.

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