An Artwork in Marfa Dies a Slow Death

(From L to R) 1991 inauguration of Monument to the Last Horse; condition of the sculpture 12 years later.
(From L to R) 1991 inauguration of Monument to the Last Horse; condition of the sculpture 12 years later.
Chinati Foundation archives/Francesca Esmay

Out in Marfa, a sculpture that references Texas's military history is slowly turning to dust.

In 1991, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen created an alt-art piece dubbed Monument to the Last Horse for The Chinati Foundation. The 20-foot-tall sculpture, constructed from aluminum and polyurethane foam, sits at the site where the last cavalry horse was laid to rest in 1932.

Twenty years later, the oftentimes harsh weather conditions of West Texas have caused the equestrian-themed piece to die from the inside out.

"It's high time to do something before you can't do anything," says Bettina Landgrebe, conservator at The Chinati Foundation in Marfa. "It's not an easy restoration because of the materials involved."

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Landgrebe explains that the original decorative paint had a life expectancy of five to eight years. Because the outer layer should have been replaced at least 12 years ago, the epoxy layer has been compromised.

As a result, cracks and holes have developed in the now water-soluble piece, which makes it more difficult for the sculpture to hold itself together to the aluminum core.

"Polyurethane foam is not a good outdoor material. The artists chose it in order to make the sculpture how they wanted," says Landgrebe, who adds that the extreme weather of the Chihuahuan Desert doesn't do Monument to the Last Horse any favors.

The Chinati Foundation, which is currently accepting conservation donations, hopes to restore Monument by stripping the original paint, repairing the cracks, adding an epoxy layer and swathing the sculpture with the original chocolate brown color that has a 10- to 15-year lifespan.


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