Abirpothi

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Minimalist Man: The Story of Donald Judd and His Artistic Form

Introduction

A man who was known to be a minimalist mastermind, Donald Judd was one of the most influential artists of the 1960s and the postwar period. He was often deemed boring in comparison with his contemporaries due to his simplistic designs and space-oriented artworks. However, minimalism as a movement soon took over the world in the preceding years. This is the story of an American artist, sculptor, and furniture maker who inspired many artists who came after him and also surprisingly the architects and interior designers of India as well. 

Donald Judd, Untitled (S. 177-186), The complete set, Comprising 10 Woodcuts Printed In Ivory Black, 1988

Early Years

During the 1950s, Donald Clarence Judd delved into philosophy and art history, attending classes at the Art Students League in New York. His debut in the public eye came through his work as an art critic, penning reviews for Arts magazine between 1959 and 1965. Judd turned to professional sheet-metal fabricators in 1964 to create his work using galvanized iron, aluminum, stainless steel, brass, and copper. For the then-emerging generation of Conceptual artists, who believed that ideas alone, free from any materialisation, might exist as art, this effectively removed any hands-on art created from the artist’s studio. Many of Judd’s famous forms were created and displayed in the mid-to-late 1960s. These include bull-nosed protrusions from the wall, “progressions,” which are hung at even intervals from floor to ceiling, box-like forms that are placed directly on the floor, and “stacks,” which are hung at even intervals from floor to ceiling. This visual language of his continued until his death in February 1994 in New York. He made many sculptural pieces and furniture that explored the unique relation to the viewers viewing them and their spatial duality. While speaking on art and maybe even his own, he had once stated that “A work can be as powerful as it can be thought to be.” 

Young Donald Jugg in Leocastelli Gallery next to his work of art in 1966.

New Home, New Inspirations

Judd purchased a five-story residence and workspace in the Soho neighbourhood of New York in 1968. It was also the same year that the Whitney Museum of American Art had a momentary exhibition of Judd’s works which was met with great acclaim. It was after this that he decided to shed the limelight and wanted an empty blank slate for his new creations. He sought a space for authentic experimentation, a venue for permanent installations, and most importantly, he desired ample room—somewhere he could actualise his vision of artworks that would dominate not just a single gallery but an entire building or even a landscape. So, in the 1970s, drawn by the grandeur of the Chihuahuan Desert and the area’s limited population, he made his home in Marfa, Texas. It was here in 1982, when Rainer and Flavin Judd, the daughter and son of artist Donald Judd, had just relocated into their rooms in the house that they lived in. Donald crafted individual desks and chairs for each of them to study on, they were simple designs made with flat pine boards. This was the beginning of the Donald Judd Furniture and the famed Donald Judd Chair and Table that is now in the news due to the Kim Kardashian fiasco.

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a table and chairs in a loft

At a Minnesota house, a Donald Judd Desk 33 and Chair 84 face Lake Minnetonka. Courtesy: Architecturaldigest.comDuring his time at Marfa, Texas, he experimented with Land Art and also was on a mission to acquire more land and spaces to amalgamate art with architecture, design, and land aesthetics. His first purchase was a large plot of land in downtown Marfa, known as “the Block,” where he transformed several buildings into a library, a living and working area, and several site-specific art projects. He worked with the Dia Art Foundation to buy a whole abandoned army fort on the outskirts of the town in the late 1970s. Here he created some of his most famous pieces: 15 untitled works in concrete (1980–84), a row of enormous concrete frames stretching nearly half a mile on a former military parade ground nearby; and 100 untitled works in mill aluminum (1982–86), a collection of shining metallic boxes permanently housed in two renovated artillery sheds. Some of the creations remain intact in this open art gallery that Judd had created in his lifetime. Thanks to Judd, the boring small town was converted into a hub of minimalistic art with tourists and art lovers coming from across the globe to witness these creations. 

NanPalmerocopy
‘Donald Judd, 15 untitled works in concrete’, 1980-1984 on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Photo Courtesy: Nan Palmero/Flickr

Judd’s Influence on Indian Architects and Artists

Many Indian interior designers and architects are Judd fans such as Ashiesh Shah, the sought-after architect and designer for the elite population of the country. Inspired by the cubist works of Judd, Shah designed a sideboard for a client based in Mumbai in the year 2017. Other architects who are inspired by the likes of Judd are the architects of the New Delhi-based Matra Architects and Rurban Planners and Architect Rooshad Shroff who is impressed by Judd’s exploration of different forms. 

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101 Spring Street, a five-storey cast-iron building in New York City, was renovated in 2013 and opened to the public. Courtesy: architectural-review.com

Judd remains a highly influential artist of the 20th century, with his legacy enduring to this day. He rejected traditional artistic approaches, challenging the notion that art must always demand active interpretation. Instead, he highlighted the significance of direct experience in art appreciation. Employing basic materials and geometric shapes, he advocated for a fresh perspective on spatial coherence and the aesthetic interpretation of art. Judd’s work is frequently exhibited at prestigious institutions and galleries such as The Guggenheim, MoMA, Tate, and David Zwirner, among others. His former house and private studio at 101 Spring Street is now a museum that provides small groups of visitors with weekday guided tours of the five-story structure. The Judd Foundation, which aims to increase respect for Judd’s creative legacy by providing access to his former settings in New York and Marfa, is in charge of maintaining this place. Donald Judd Foundation has the rights to all his creations and works of art and has a great archive that art lovers can access if they wish to see his legacy. 

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