Miles of empty desert stretching in all directions. Concrete slabs in an overgrown field. An abandoned army base. Why would Art Division students want to live here for six months?
Because they’re paid interns in the Education Department at the world-famous Chinati Institute in Marfa, Texas–and they love it. Created in 1986, Chinati is a monumental art installation designed by artist Donald Judd on a repurposed army base. Over miles of otherwise empty desert, Judd’s conceptual installations, along with those of his colleagues Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Robert Irwin and others, fill warehouse-sized spaces with gigantic sculptural work.
Over the years, as word has spread throughout the world, Marfa has become a destination for international art-lovers (including Beyoncé, who visited in 2013.)
For the last year and a half, Art Division students Virginia Fierros Roque, Celina Villanueva and Angela Pastor have each been awarded six-month residential internships at Chinati, gaining an intensive professional experience in museum work. Working closely with Chinati staff, Virginia, Celina and Angela received hands-on training in developing and leading education programs for children and adults in the Marfa community.
“It was life-changing,” says Virginia, who was an intern from February to August of 2022. “It was the most hands-on experience I’ve ever had, I learned so much doing lesson plans and experimenting with new mediums. I just loved the freedom, allowing the kids to be free and just grab any materials they wanted and let their creativity flow.”
Angela, who will conclude her internship the first week of August 2023, agrees. “It’s a completely different energy from LA here, a lot more grounded, a lot slower, more intentional, more community-based.” Despite the relative isolation of living at the nearly-empty institute, Angela has made friends in the community, even joining the Marfa softball team.
Michael Roch, Chinati’s Director of Education and Curricula, and Molly Bondy, Chinati’s Education and Interns Program Manager, are enthusiastic about the relationship with Art Division, welcoming our students’ dedication and perspective. They speak highly of all three interns and say they hope to continue to offer internship opportunities to qualified Art Division students in the coming years.
For Virginia, the experience strengthened her commitment to working in arts education. Upon her return to Los Angeles, she found a job at a A Place Called Home, where she is now the Visual Arts Program Assistant. Celina is finishing her studies at Cal State Long Beach. And as for Angela, she’s not sure what her future holds once she returns, but she knows the program has had an impact on her–despite the relative lack of restaurant choices in Marfa. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she says. “I really encourage any Art Division student to apply for next time.”
Beyond the wide variety of workshops this summer, Art Division students had a chance to delve into the creative worlds of Ndejeka Akunyili Crosby, Stan Douglas, Sam Francis, and the delicate process of art conservation.
On June 9, the students visited David Zwirner's new gallery on Western Avenue, accompanied by staffers Ellie Herman and Dan McCleary, as well as Field Trips volunteer Elsa Longhauser. The group got a tour of Ndejeka Akunyili Crosby's latest show, led by Art Division's own Rebecca Levinson, who had worked as one of Crosby's assistants. Rebecca talked to the students about Crosby's meticulous painting technique, which combines acrylic painting with photographic images of Nigerian pop culture. The adjacent gallery housed the monumental photographs of Canadian artist Stan Douglas, presenting a visual reconstruction of protest sites around the world in 2011.
After the gallery visit, students and staff gathered at Cassell's over cheeseburgers for a lively discussion about the definition of art. Who gets to show art? Who gets to decide which art matters?
On June 16 at LACMA, a group of students, accompanied by Dan, Elsa, and painting instructor Fabián Cerejido, received a personal tour of the exhibition Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing led by curator Richard Speer. Speer guided the group through Francis' work and his experience with Japan. Following the tour, the group enjoyed a picnic lunch on the museum's lawn.
The final trip on June 20, took the students to the Getty Museum's Painting Conservation department, joined by several Art Division staffers: Ellie, Dan, Fabián, Luis Hernandez, Nicole Berlanga and Melissa Soriano. Led by Associate Conservator of Paintings Devi Ormond, the group was able to visit the lower levels of the museum, normally closed to the public. Devi shared her extensive knowledge and expertise on the intricate process of restoring paintings, showcasing the various techniques employed to bring artworks back to their original state. Afterwards, on the patio of the museum, the group enjoyed sandwiches, chips and a great conversation about artistic practice.
In addition to the great art, these trips are a terrific way for students to get a chance to hang out, share a meal and spend time with each other, building community as we expand our understanding of art.