Justice to Judd

by Claudia Dias on February 26, 2010

“It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again.” *


I never understood the whole myth around Donald Judd’s work, and probably  never will  (as long it is presented on boring white gallery walls or, in the case of his furniture, covered with stacks of paper and magazines) … if it had not been for his brief for the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum, which has been created around Donald Judd’s intention to preserve and present to the public permanent large-scale installations of a limited number of artists in 1986 (many of the works displayed are his own; other works are of artists from his collection).

This idea to find the right undisturbed location, the right neutral but adaptable structures to house these works and to adjust these structures to make the art live with its surrounding changed my preconceptions.
100 reflective milled aluminum objects of the same outer size (41″x51″x72″) but with interior permutations were installed in two former Artillery Sheds, from which Judd removed the garage doors and replaced them with a continuous row of quartered windows which now floods the space with light and changes the mood of the installation depending on light and weather conditions. Judd also doubled the heights of these two buildings, adding a vaulted roof on top of the orginal flat-roof. (100 untitled works in milled aluminum, 1982-1986)

The Dia Art Foundation had already spearheaded this idea in New York with Walter de Maria’s The New York Earth Room installed in 1977 and The Broken Kilometer installed in 1979. Both installations still remain as anchors within the ever changing urban landscapes and neighborhoods of Manhattan.


The Chinati Foundation is located on 340 acres of land on the site of former Fort D.A. Russell in Marfa, Texas. Construction and installation at the site began in 1979 with initial assistance from Dia in New York.

“The art and architecture of the past that we know is that which remains. The best is that which remains where it was painted, placed or built.  Most of the art of the past that could be moved was taken by conquerors. Almost all recent art is conquered as soon as it’s made, since it’s first shown for sale and once sold is exhibited as foreign in the alien museums. The public has no idea of art other than that it is something portable that can be bought. There is no constructive effort; there is no cooperative effort. This situation is primitive in relation to a few earlier and better times.” *

Roni Horn’s pair of two identical truncated solid copper cones that are 35 inches long, tapering from a diameter of 17 inches to 12 inches were placed by the artist together with Donald Judd. The pair is part of a 1988 suite consisting of four sets of paired, solid copper forms, each hand-lathed to duplicate mechanical identity. The entire suite is titled Things That Happen Again.


Looking at both components at the same time, the viewer sees in the element at the end of the space that part which is invisible to him of the near-by object, completing the set while scanning the room. The object, as one comes upon it, tapers away into space as it presses down onto the floor (through its shape and own weight). It is far more a repetition than an architectural work could ever be, using the mobility of the sculptural object to orient the body in such a way as to generalize the effect of the room itself.  At the same time there is an inherent instability within the space, centerless and sensible to the desire to move the objects out of balance.

“Art and architecture – all the arts – do not have to exist in isolation, as they do now. This fault is very much a key to the present society. Architecture is nearly gone, but it, art, all of the arts, in fact all parts of the society, have to be rejoined, and joined more than they have ever been. This would be democratic in a good sense, unlike the present increasing fragmentation into separate but equal categories, equal within the arts, but inferior to the powerful bureaucracies.” *

Knowing that these works are installed with such permanence at a remote location in Texas will allow me to walk more easily the aisles of the next mammoth Art Fair.

* All quotes are by Donald Judd, from the Chinati Foundation catalogue and Statement for the Chinati Foundation/La Fundacion Chinati by Donald Judd

Please refer for further information to the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas
Photographs are courtesy of the Chinati Foundation, Dia Foundation, and Essem.W

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