Laura Copelin, curator at Ballroom Marfa, will now be the West Texas contemporary arts institution’s executive director. Copelin joined the organization as associate curator in 2014, and had served as interim director since April. She will continue to curate exhibitions at Ballroom Marfa.
“Marfa really seems to be a beacon,” Copelin told ARTnews. “It’s been a transformative experience, being on the edge of these centers of the art world of New York and Los Angeles.” Being located there, she added, “creates a sense of freedom for artists, curators, and many kinds of thinkers.”
Copelin organized the institution’s current exhibition “Tierra. Sangre. Oro,” in which L.A.-based artist Rafa Esparza has transformed Ballroom Marfa’s gallery space, covering the floors with adobe bricks and re-orienting the entrance to the gallery.
While Esparza worked with adobe brickmakers across the Mexican border to create new bricks for the massive installation, many of the bricks on view had been shipped from L.A. when they were included in 2016’s “Made in L.A.” at the Hammer Museum, to New York for the 2017 “Whitney Biennial,” and finally to Marfa. As part of the exhibition, Esparza also initiated conversations with fellow artists in L.A.—Carmen Argote, Nao Bustamante, Beatriz Cortez, Timo Fahler, Eamon Ore-Giron, and Star Montana—to produce collaborative work to go on view throughout the run of the show.
Copelin is also currently at work co-curating Ballroom Marfa’s upcoming spring exhibition with philosopher Timothy Morton. Taking its name from a 2013 book by Morton and titled “Hyperobjects,” the group show will “use ideas from Morton’s theory to confront the overwhelming scale of today’s ecological crisis,” according to a press release.
She has also helped oversee the completion of Haroon Mirza’s stone circle, to debut next winter on ranch land just east of Marfa. The work is Ballroom Marfa’s most ambitious public installation since Elmgreen & Dragset’s Prada Marfa in 2005, and has been in the works for over three years, before Copelin arrived in Texas. The sculpture will carry the spirit of a Neolithic stone structure, with a twist, as the stones will be embedded with LED lights and speakers that will be solar-powered and activated by the moon. When visitors go to the middle of the sculpture, they will experience what Copelin described as a “solar symphony.”
“Laura’s curatorial vision is already setting new standards for Ballroom’s programming; combining a keen eye with a deep understanding of the social, political, and environmental issues that are driving the conversation in our culture today,” Fairfax Dorn, Ballroom Marfa co-founder and artistic director, said in a statement.
Since Donald Judd first began visiting Marfa, in the 1970s, and buying property to create permanent installations, the area has become a bit of a mecca for art-world types and international tourists alike since the artist’s death in 1994 and especially within the past few years.
Copelin sees Ballroom Marfa, which is located in a converted dance hall from the 1920s, as a continuation of the daring artistic vision that Judd first had for the town. “My vision for Ballroom Marfa is very much a continuation of the spirit of its founding: to create new work that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else,” she said.
Copelin said she will continue to focus on commissioning new work that will “really expand the conversation to include disciplines that aren’t usually included in the contemporary-art conversation,” mainly focusing on the ecological and natural sciences and how they are part and parcel to the rich landscape of Marfa, as well as maintaining an on-going dialogue with the town’s community.
“I like to think about collaboration with the community, as opposed to engagement,” Copelin said. “We have such a rich ground to work with in Marfa, with this incredible creative and cultural heritage of being so close to the border and Judd’s legacy here. We want to contribute to what’s happening and amplify what’s special about this place, and amplify new work by artists who deserve to have a platform to make art.”