Curator Yvonne Force Villareal inaugurates Brite Force, a new arts initiative in Marfa, Texas, with an exhibition of surreal Western paintings by Will Cotton.
Known for her work co-producing public installations such as Elmgreen and Dragset’s Prada Marfa and Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains, Yvonne Force Villareal has launched Brite Force, a new arts initiative based in Marfa, Texas. Brite Force opened May 5, 2022 with an exhibition of new works by Will Cotton, described by Villareal as a “western fairytale.” For Villareal, Brite Force represents “a personal passion project, merging my career working in the art world and our own family history deeply rooted in Marfa dating back to the late 19th century.”
Villareal’s husband, artist Leo Villareal, is the great-great-grandson of rancher Lucas Brite, who arrived in Marfa in 1902 and whose sixteen-room mansion—passed down through the Brite Family Trust for more than a century—serves as the venue for Brite Force. The Villareals enlisted architect Louis Yoh and interior designer Fernando Santangelo to update the home for the launch of Brite Force, which Villareal says will combine artist residencies with both in-house exhibitions and public projects.
The goal of revising the space was to realize “our idea of remaining a family home,” Force explains, “while becoming an artistically stimulating space that we could share with creative visionaries from around the world.” Artists have historically gravitated to Marfa—Donald Judd, Christopher Wool, and Charline von Heyl, for example—and collectors have followed. Ballroom Marfa, another local arts organization that the Villareal family is involved with (Mr. Villareal is on the board of trustees), has earned an almost messianic aura within the contemporary art world. Brite Force offers one more reason to make the Marfa art pilgrimage.
To baptize the Brite Force space, Cotton created a series of paintings and works on paper that combine classic Western motifs—cowboys and ranchers—with his own flavor of saccharin romanticism. Bucking stallions are reimagined as pink unicorns with peppermint horns, set against pastel skies. Cotton’s archetypes of vintage Americana brush up against his surrealist staples—cotton candy clouds and fences made of sugar canes.
Villareal shares that, in order to gather source material for this new series, Cotton visited the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo in Alpine, Texas, where he documented the “skills, sportsmanship, and rituals of ranch culture.” In Cotton’s words, “I’m most interested in the character of the mythologized American cowboy.”
“The cowboys in many of my paintings are hapless American men,” Cotton explains, “‘tough guys,’ and rowdy gunslingers. Their goal is only to conquer, to force the other into submission; but throughout the series you can also see a transformation of character—the cowboys becoming comfortable with the feminine power of the unicorn.” The resulting body of work is undeniably nostalgic—a rose-colored love letter to the American West and its fetishized protagonists.
Following the public opening, which coincided with the Marfa Invitational art fair, Brite Force is now open by appointment. To book a tour, visit the Brite Force website.