Donald Judd at Museum of Modern Art, New York

photo by Garth Evans before MoMA closed

Sculpture Forum 8: “Judd” Donald Judd at Museum of Modern Art New York opens April 23 2020 online. Participants: Garth Evans, Brandt Junceau, Jock Ireland, Karen Wilkin (video by Maud Bryt from internet recorded video/audio and photos from MoMA, Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation). During this stay-home time, we were unable to go to the Judd exhibit as a group and then gather as a group to discuss, but we were able to gather via the internet and discuss our various experiences of the Judd exhibit and also Marfa and his work in general. We hope to get to the exhibit and have a discussion as a group when it is again possible.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

We’re trying to continue with the Sculpture Forum in these dark days. . . Karen, you have actually been to Marfa. . . –Garth Evans

My ideas about Judd were strongly altered by seeing the 100 mill aluminum piece in the artillery sheds, in perfect light. . . –Karen Wilkin

Regarding Marfa: the time and space and money, the cheap space, the wide space, that he had—one could presume this was an artist who could do anything he liked, exactly as he liked, and what he left us is exactly what he had to say and just the way it ought to be said. –Brandt Junceau

I thought the stainless steel piece at MoMA was tedious. For the most part what spoke to me were whole rooms—particularly the second room—what spoke to me was standing in a room and taking it all in as a single entity. . . –Garth

The fact that looking at a few pieces installed together is satisfying in a way that an individual work is not—or is less so—is kind of . . . that’s diametrically counter to the artist’s intention. There’s supposed to be no composition, no ensemble, no heterogeneity, no history, no elapsed time. –Brandt

We’re dealing with something that’s full of contradictions. Is that what we’re saying? What do we think about that? –Garth

Maybe I find that the most interesting thing about it. –Karen

You can think of a sculptor like Michelangelo: his sculpture has “meaning.” A sculptor like Giambologna: his sculpture doesn’t have “meaning.” And Judd is a Giambologna kind of sculptor. –Jock

It’s his good friend Frank Stella’s line: what you see is what you see. –Karen

It’s a fascinating topic. It does raise a lot of questions—about the role of the artist, the image of the artist, the funding of the artist, etc. Maybe we can look at it again–if the MoMA show gets extended. –Garth

It’s the inconsistencies and the questions that are more interesting than the actual work. –Karen

8 thoughts on “Donald Judd at Museum of Modern Art, New York

  1. Maud,

    I think we need to be careful with the word “art”.

    There are works of art. I think when we categorize something as a work of art, regardless of how else we might also categorize it – as a painting, a poem, a play, a dance, a sculpture, etc. we are asserting that its content is inexhaustible. Not all paintings, poems, theatrical performances, dance performances, sculptures etc. are works of art. In fact, very few are. I think we have to decide for ourselves, each time, whether something is or is not a work of art. It is personal and subjective.

    Of course, there is a consensus, a canon, that has been built over time. We ought neither to accept this or reject this consensus. However, I think that when we use the word “art” we are referring to the vast body of works that the consensus has built, the huge body of works that have been canonized.

    As for design, I refer to my previous comment, but would wish to note that, because something has been designed does not preclude it from being (experienced as) a work or art, nor from entering the canon.

    We are witnessing and contributing to the debate about whether or not some of Judd’s works belong in the canon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aha! of course it is more complex than my quick quip makes it seem, you are absolutely right. I stand by my assessment of Judd’s work as design, not art, for the sake of discussion (since I cannot claim to know it really, have not spent time with it and am just engaging here because the ideas themselves are interesting to me) but my quick explanation was not fully true. I agree of course that art answers needs and problems also, did not mean them to be mutually exclusive…meant it more how you describe, that it’s an external problem in some regard. Like how an architect designs a building or a house for a specific purpose, and usually for someone else. So yes, what is the public problem that I think Judd is designing an elegant solution to… Maybe he thought the public problem was “How do we make art that is not so emotive and messy and personal, so laden with history and echoey with other art, art from the past, and other artists?” Would he have made all those boxes and the concrete things outside just for himself? To me, it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe it’s not design but rather philosophy. Anyway, I am out of my depth here. All I can say is the word “design” comes to mind when I see his work, and I love good design. But I also see a lot of art as “fashion” and some as “theater” and some as “journalism”. So maybe the real question is What is art? And I don’t know, I wouldn’t know how to define it. I’ll admit that.


  3. Maud,

    I once wrote a paper about this and I am inclined to agree, but I think it is a bit more complicated.

    And, I think the distinction matters and is important, however, it is not always the case that a clear distinction can be made, there is sometimes overlap – a grey area.

    Judd might be a good case.

    I don’t buy the argument that (good) design answers a need while art is something else – an exploration, an expression, a question.

    I don’t think it is a a matter of design being problem solving while art is not problem solving, or of design answering a need and art not answering a need.

    (Good) art answers a need!

    Surely the issue is, what problem? What need? Whose problem. Whose need?

    Isn’t it the case that functioning in design means functioning in relation to a need that is not subjective, not entirely personal, while an artist is operating in relation to needs – problems, that are, more or less, personal and subjective.

    That the artist’s needs – problems are subjective and personal does not mean that the answers (the art) is not of value to others.

    If designer is functioning relation to a problem – a problem that is not subjective, not personal or private but is perceived to exist in the public domain then how would you describe the problem Judd was

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Maud, I wonder about this distinction, between artist and designer.

    Is it a matter of what is produced or of how it is produced?

    Do you think that one is a designer if one’s practice requires that every aspect of the work be specified in advance, so that it can be fabricated by someone else? Like an architect planning a building.

    Or, if this is not the case, is one a designer when the things one produces can easily be reproduced – by the same or a different process?

    Everything can be reproduced once it exists – more or less – so it is a matter of intentionally making things that can be reproduced easily?

    Does it matter?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think of Design as solving a problem. Good design is economical in its means and aesthetically coherent. Something needs to be done, and good design answers that need well. Art is an exploration, an expression, a question, not an answer. That’s how I think of it and what I meant by the distinction. As far as Judd goes, I guess then I would say that his work answers the question of what non-utilitarian thing to put in a particular specific space in this (that) moment in time.


  5. Thanks for your comment, Choghakate. Judd himself said he wasn’t a sculptor, and I understand he hated museums. Some sculptor friends of mine call him an architect, but he didn’t design that building in Soho: he just moved in–as a dancer might move in space???

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great thoughts. I have always disregarded Judd’s work because of its dependance with the environment and on the other hand, I had the feeling that these “boxes” were somehow misplaced in museums, as empty boxes or a heavy furniture piece. The visit to his house in Soho was an epiphany, as if I suddenly understood his vision of space. Such a transformative experience that I can’t wait to see Marfa.
    Choghakate Kazarian

    Liked by 3 people

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