Chinati Foundation Finds Its Next Director Close to Home

The Chinati Foundation, the small but influential art museum in Texas founded by the artist Donald Judd, announced on Friday that it had found its next leader. Caitlin Murray, the director of archives and programs at the separate Judd Foundation, will head the organization.

When Chinati’s last director stepped down last July after nearly a decade, its trustees began an international search for a new leader of the nonprofit museum, which serves 30,000 visitors annually with an operating budget of $3.5 million. The hunt for someone capable of preserving Judd’s artistic vision ended close to where it started: in the town of Marfa in the high scrublands of West Texas, where the artist, who died in 1994, is revered.

“I am honored by the opportunity to deepen my engagement with Donald Judd’s legacy,” Murray said in an interview. She has worked in Marfa for 15 years at the Judd Foundation, which maintains Judd’s living and working spaces and offers educational programs. She is currently overseeing the final stages of a project to make Judd’s papers — tens of thousands of documents — accessible through an archive. She has also edited with his son, Flavin Judd, the Judd Foundation’s artistic director, two books of interviews and writings by the artist.

Murray recalled that she first visited Chinati in 2005 to see an exhibition by the artist Tony Feher, whose sculptures made of disposable materials like jars and plastic containers made an impression. “I have spent years reflecting on that experience,” Murray said, adding that it motivated her to switch from studying rare manuscripts and writers’ papers to examining what artists left behind.

The Chinati Foundation manages 340 desert acres and several buildings on a defunct military base in Marfa that Donald Judd began acquiring and renovating into exhibition spaces in 1978, with the help of the Dia Art Foundation. The site opened to the public in 1987, but when Judd died unexpectedly seven years later, at 65, with a will dictating that his works be “preserved where they are installed” for study and appreciation, its staff needed to find money to make that happen. The museum raised enough funds over the years to create an endowment that is currently worth about $16 million, according to Melissa Parsoff, a museum spokeswoman.

“The board is extremely pleased to welcome Caitlin Murray as Chinati’s next executive director,” Mack Fowler, one of the organization’s chairs, said in a statement. “The museum’s mission is to continue to implement and preserve Donald Judd’s vision for art, landscape and architecture in Marfa.”

The landscape and architecture that lures thousands of art pilgrims into the desert may also be Murray’s greatest challenge when she assumes her new position in May. The New York Times reported last year that rising temperatures and crumbling buildings have endangered some of Judd’s most famous works, which are exhibited on the museum’s premises. Chinati is involved in a $40 million capital campaign to restore its property and complete other projects.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to preserve those buildings,” Murray said of the leaky artillery sheds that house Judd’s assortment of 100 aluminum sculptures. “I consider that work to be one of the 20th century’s most important artworks. When people come to see it and these buildings, they get a sense of the significance of Judd.”

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