Marfa's Newest Work of Public Art is a Solar-Powered Stonehenge
British artist Haroon Mizra's monumental public sculpture is a rare newcomer to a site identified with a single iconic artist.
Haroon Mizra, Rendering for stone circle, 2017. Courtesy of hrm199, Ballroom Marfa, and Lisson Gallery
In 1971, fed up with the flashy and overcrowded New York art scene, Donald Judd packed his bags and headed southwest to a small cowboy town named Marfa. Beneath the endless skies, Judd dreamed up an alternative strand of minimalism (notoriously, he despised the term) that eschewed the urban white cube for sublime desert surrounds. A half-century later, British artist Haroon Mirza is unveiling his own project in the same location.
Known for multimedia installations that blend properties of sound, space, and light in an nod to psychedelic and ambient aesthetics, Mizra has made another work that checks all the right boxes. An astrologically aligned ring of boulders clad in solar panels that absorb and release energy in correlation with the phases of the moon, stone circle blurs boundaries between genres and media. Sitting somewhere between ancient mysticism and contemporary technology, it performs both astrological and scientific functions.
stone circle, which opens officially in Winter 2018, is squirreled away about ten miles northwest of the city, at the end of a sloping municipal road. “You really have to go looking for it,” Matt Grant, lead preparator of Ballroom Marfa, told me. In collaboration with Mirza’s gallery, Lisson Gallery, Ballroom is responsible for this latest addition to Marfa’s public art offerings, which may seem surprisingly few and far between given the town's Judd-given status.
In fact, Mirza’s only precedent (excluding the work housed on the Judd-laden land that belongs to the Chinati Foundation) is Berlin duo Elmgreen & Dragset’s iconic Prada Marfa (2005), which was installed along the stretch of highway near Valentine, Texas (about 40 miles outside Marfa) over a decade prior. So why is public art such a rarity in what might seem like a perfectly sympathetic location? Ultimately, it’s not an issue of available space, but rather who owns it.
“Unlike much of the United States, land in Texas is mostly privately owned,” confirmed Grant. This makes public projects like stone circle and Prada Marfa tough to negotiate and realize. “Ballroom managed to strike a deal with the ranchers through a family connection,” he told me. So what did the curators see in Mirza’s work? Perhaps they were tickled by stone circle’s otherworldly air, with its imported Mexican boulders “appearing,” in Mizra’s words, “inexplicably, like a crop circle.”
stone circle will open in Winter 2018 and remain on view for the following five years.
This article was amended on April 27, 2018 to remove a mischaracterization of the curators and a quotation by Matt Grant presented in a misleading context.