Jed Perl

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Don­ald Judd Writ­ings edited by Flavin Judd and Caitlin Mur­ray

Don­ald Judd Writ­ings edited by Flavin Judd and Caitlin Mur­ray.

Judd Foun­da­tion/David Zwirner, 1,055 pp., $39.95 (pa­per)

The writ­ings of Don­ald Judd are tri­umphantly mat­ter-of-fact. The sculp­tor, who died in 1994 at the age of six­ty­five, was de­ci­sive even about his sec­ond thoughts and doubts. “Cock­sure cer­tainty and squirm­ing un­cer­tainty are both wrong,” he once wrote. “It’s pos­si­ble to think and act with­out be­ing sim­ple and fa­natic and it’s pos­si­ble to ac­cept un­cer­tainty, which is nearly ev­ery­thing, qui­etly.” In the es­says that he pub­lished over more than three decades, he turned even his equiv­o­ca­tions into dic­tums as he ex­plored sub­jects that in­cluded not only art, ar­chi­tec­ture, and the art world, but also ur­ban de­vel­op­ment and na­tional af­fairs. What res­cues even Judd’s most sweep­ing pro­nounce­ments from crack­pot iras­ci­bil­ity is the easy, pun­gent power of his prose. He ar­ranges rel­a­tively sim­ple nouns and verbs (and a min­i­mum of ad­jec­tives) in sen­tences and para­graphs that have a plain­spo­ken, work­man­like beauty. Judd’s di­rect, un­equiv­o­cal writ­ings are a per­fect match for his sculp­tures, with their pre­cisely cal­cu­lated an­gles and un­abashed cel­e­bra­tion of in­dus­trial ma­te­ri­als such as ply­wood, sheet alu­minum, and Plex­i­glas. This fiercely in­de­pen­dent artist be­longs in a long line of Amer­i­can aes­thetes who em­braced an un­adorned style, in­clud­ing fig­ures as var­i­ous as Ernest Hem­ing­way, Bar­nett New­man, Vir­gil Thom­son, and Walker Evans.

Read­ing Judd’s prose two decades af­ter his death, you will ex­pe­ri­ence, amid the over­heated and gaseous at­mos­phere of the con­tem­po­rary art world, an in­vig­o­rat­ing blast of cold, clear air. Don­ald Judd Writ­ings, al­though not the first col­lec­tion of his prose, is the first to span his en­tire ca­reer. Edited by Flavin Judd, the artist’s son, and Caitlin Mur­ray, the book in­cludes, in ad­di­tion to pre­vi­ously pub­lished work, se­lec­tions from notes that Judd made over the years. All the way through, you hear the voice of a man who was never afraid to say no. It was not the re­fusal of an out­sider, how­ever, at least not in his ear­lier years of writ­ing and ex­hibit­ing. Judd’s no is that of the ded­i­cated avant-gardist—the man who leads the charge. This no is fun­da­men­tally pos­i­tive and cel­e­bra­tory—a cry for the new.

Judd be­lieved that the search for the new in­volved, both in his own work and the work of his con­tem­po­raries, a re­jec­tion of the con­ven­tions of paint­ing and sculp­ture in fa­vor of new forms, which were of­ten ag­gres­sively cu­ri­ous or idio­syn­cratic and star­tlingly sized or scaled. Judd re­fused to fa­vor ei­ther rep­re­sen­ta­tional or ab­stract im­ages. He was an en­thu­si­ast for Claes Olden­burg’s over­sized quo­tid­ian ob­jects, Lee Bon­te­cou’s shaped can­vas con­vex­i­ties, Lu­cas Sa­ma­ras’s be­decked and be­jew­eled boxes, and Dan Flavin’s neon ge­ome­tries. He gath­ered these var­ie­gated works by his con­tem­po­raries un­der a sin­gu­lar rubric when he ti­tled one of his most fa­mous es­says “Spe­cific Ob­jects” (1964).

Al­though Judd had a great deal to say about many va­ri­eties of art, ar­chi­tec­ture, and design, he was a man with one big idea. “Most works fi­nally have one qual­ity,” he wrote in “Spe­cific Ob­jects.” “The thing as a whole, its qual­ity as a whole, is what is in­ter­est­ing.” In Judd’s grand­est sculp­tures he cer­tainly proved his point. I’m think­ing es­pe­cially of the hun­dred sheet alu­minum boxes gath­ered to­gether in two build­ings in Marfa, Texas, and the richly poly­chromed wall-hang­ing com­po­si­tions of his later years.

While ev­ery­body who cares about the arts will agree that unity and com­plex­ity are both qual­i­ties to be ad­mired, there is a fun­da­men­tal di­vide be­tween those who crave a com­plex­ity that may risk dis­unity and those who crave a unity that may give short shrift to com­plex­ity. Judd, al­though his heart was al­ways with unity, knew that it was en­riched by va­ri­ety. His hun­dred alu­minum boxes, al­though alike in their ex­ter­nal di­men­sions, are sub­di­vided in­side in many dif­fer­ent ways. His poly­chromed wall-hang­ing com­po­si­tions daz­zle with their play­ful, un­pre­dictable color or­ches­tra­tions.

In an es­say en­ti­tled “Sym­me­try” (1985), Judd de­clared that “art, for my­self, and ar­chi­tec­ture, for ev­ery­one, should al­ways be sym­met­ri­cal ex­cept for a good rea­son.” But he im­me­di­ately went on to ob­serve that “sym­me­try it­self al­lows vari­a­tion,” and that there are forms of sym­me­try that are “very close to asym­me­try.” There are in­tri­ca­cies amid Judd’s sim­plic­i­ties. That’s what gives both his sculp­ture and his writ­ing their stay­ing power.

Judd grew up in New Jersey, served in Korea in 1946–1947, and at­tended the Art Stu­dents League and Columbia Univer­sity, where he stud­ied phi­los­o­phy and grad­u­ated cum laude in 1953. The first three es­says in Don­ald Judd Writ­ings, pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished, were writ­ten while he was do­ing grad­u­ate work in art his­tory at Columbia later in the 1950s. They re­veal a mind and a style al­most fully formed. In these es­says about a Peru­vian wood carv­ing, a mar­ble re­lief by the sev­en­teen­th­cen­tury French sculp­tor Pierre Puget, and an Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ist paint­ing by the New York artist James Brooks, there is al­ready the me­thod­i­cal at­ten­tive­ness and the ra­zor-sharp anal­y­sis. Judd ab­hors a mys­tery. He de­mands clar­ity. In de­scrib­ing an im­pos­si­bly crowded Baroque bat­tle scene, he cuts straight through the pileup of hu­man be­ings in var­i­ous states of stress, ar­gu­ing that the paint­ing is “or­ga­nized through a vir­tual grid of di­ag­o­nals of vary­ing di­rec­tions and promi­nence.” Judd took at least one course with the great art his­to­rian Meyer Schapiro at Columbia, which leads me to won­der if he was some­how in­flu­enced by Schapiro’s bold but me­thod­i­cal mind—by his com­bi­na­tion of bound­less cu­rios­ity, stren­u­ous cri­tique, and an­a­lyt­i­cal pre­ci­sion.

“I leapt into the world an em­piri­cist,” Judd wrote in 1981 in an es­say about the Rus­sian avant-garde. In the grad­u­ate school es­say about James Brooks, he quoted David Hume’s ideas about “the na­ture of sub­stance,” and com­mented that “much present Amer­i­can paint­ing seems re­lated to the in­dige­nous prag­matic phi­los­o­phy, es­pe­cially Peirce, and its source, the sim­i­lar Bri­tish Em­piri­cists.” Judd be­gan with an em­piri­cist’s taste for the con­crete, the par­tic­u­lar, and the spe­cific. That taste never left him. He wanted to nail things down. He be­gan his long dis­cus­sion of Brooks’s lyri­cal ab­strac­tion with a sim­ple dec­la­ra­tion: “In the con­tem­po­rary di­chotomy of the dis­per­sion or con­cen­tra­tion of form, Brooks’s work is me­di­ate.” In the next few sen­tences, he as­signed par­tic­u­lar places within this con­tem­po­rary di­chotomy not only to Brooks but also to Jack­son Pol­lock, Bradley Walker Tom­lin, Willem de Koon­ing, Franz Kline, Robert Mother­well, Mark Rothko, and a French­man, Pierre Soulages. Judd, still a stu­dent, was very much in con­trol—a young, mas­ter­ful mind, siz­ing up the sit­u­a­tion. Be­gin­ning in the late 1950s, when many writers were still in­clined to cast what was be­ing re­ferred to as the new Amer­i­can paint­ing of Pol­lock, de Koon­ing, and Rothko in a ro­man­tic light, Judd ar­gued that these artists weren’t dream­ers and mythol­o­giz­ers but re­al­ists and prag­ma­tists, al­beit of an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent kind. Writ­ing about Pol­lock in 1967, he com­plained that most dis­cus­sions of Pol­lock were “loose and un­rea­son­able.” No doubt think­ing of the writers who had as­so­ci­ated Pol­lock’s maze­like dripped can­vases with mys­ti­cal cos­molo­gies or the hurly-burly of ur­ban life, Judd ob­served that “al­most any kind of state­ment can be de­rived from the work: philo­soph­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, so­ci­o­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal.” He wanted to dis­tin­guish Pol­lock’s paint­ings from the ex­pres­sion­ism of Sou­tine and van Gogh, which he saw as “por­tray [ing] im­me­di­ate emo­tions.” This, so he ex­plained, “oc­curs through a se­quence of ob­serv­ing, feel­ing, and record­ing.” Pol­lock, Judd be­lieved, wasn’t con­cerned with emo­tions but with “sen­sa­tions.” Emo­tions were evo­lu­tion­ary; sen­sa­tions were im­me­di­ate. “The dripped paint in most of Pol­lock’s paint­ings is dripped paint,” he wrote. “It’s that sen­sa­tion, com­pletely im­me­di­ate and spe­cific, and noth­ing mod­i­fies it.”

For Judd writ­ing be­came a way of rea­son­ing his way through the world—of rec­on­cil­ing the sin­gu­lar­ity of his own artis­tic vi­sion with the chaotic het­ero­gene­ity of the art and ideas that he en­coun­tered ev­ery­where he turned. When he first col­lected his writ­ings in 1975, he claimed that much if not most of what he had writ­ten be­tween 1959 and 1965 for Arts mag­a­zine he had writ­ten “as a mer­ce­nary and would never have writ­ten . . . oth­er­wise.” Writ­ing had been lit­tle more than a way to eke out a liv­ing. “Since there were no set hours and since I could work at home it was a good part-time job.” I don’t think this can be taken at face value. While Judd was surely frus­trated by hav­ing to write short re­views of the work of artists who in­ter­ested him lit­tle if at all, there was a won­der­ful steadi­ness about his eye and his mind as he chron­i­cled the sea changes that were over­tak­ing the New

York art world in the early 1960s. It was a tu­mul­tuous time, with con­tem­po­rary art ac­quir­ing a grow­ing pres­tige even as many artists and writers wor­ried that the old mod­ern ideas and ideals that had nour­ished the Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ists were prov­ing un­work­able and per­haps to­tally ir­rel­e­vant. Judd was ea­ger to sort it all out and find a way for­ward. Crit­i­cal es­says and re­views res­ur­rected decades af­ter they were first writ­ten can con­vey the at­mos­phere of a time, but they can also feel dim and ob­scure—the stakes once so high now reg­is­ter­ing as lit­tle more than stale skir­mishes, with yes­ter­day’s bat­tle lines all but erased. I can un­der­stand read­ers dis­miss­ing as hardly more than ill­tem­pered back­bit­ing and gos­sip Judd’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Cle­ment Green­berg’s views as “lit­tle league fas­cism” or Michael Fried’s opin­ions as “pedan­tic pseudo-philo­soph­i­cal anal­y­sis.” But if Judd’s rhetoric some­times reached a fever pitch, it was not with­out rea­son. A great deal was at stake as the au­thor­ity of the Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ists waned. Judd was one of a num­ber of artists who felt the need to speak out and found them­selves dou­bling as elo­quent crit­ics. In Art News and The Na­tion, the painter Fair­field Porter looked to­ward a re­vival of rep­re­sen­ta­tional paint­ing that might build on the strengths of de Koon­ing’s painterly ab­strac­tion. And writ­ing along­side Judd in Arts, Sid­ney Til­lim, al­though a painter lit­tle known to­day, vig­or­ously ar­tic­u­lated the sense shared by many that Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism had mostly de­gen­er­ated into man­ner­ism and af­fec­ta­tion.

For all that Judd be­lieved in the unity, whole­ness, and sin­gu­lar­ity of works of art, he was equally con­vinced that the con­di­tions that in­vited cre­ation were vari­able, di­verse, and un­pre­dictable. In both “Spe­cific Ob­jects” and an­other es­say writ­ten in 1964, “Lo­cal His­tory,” Judd re­jected any uni­fied the­ory of the his­tory of art. This was the heart of his dis­agree­ment with Green­berg—as well as with Fried, who even as he was ex­tend­ing and trans­form­ing Green­berg’s ideas launched a di­rect as­sault on Judd in his es­say “Art and Ob­ject­hood.” Judd sensed an un­der­ly­ing and un­wanted Hegelian ide­al­ism in Green­berg’s be­lief that any au­then­tic artis­tic style, as Green­berg put it, “had its own in­her­ent laws of de­vel­op­ment.” “The his­tory of art and art’s con­di­tion at any time,” Judd wrote in 1964, “are pretty messy. They should stay that way.” Judd dis­liked the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion im­plicit in a stylis­tic la­bel such as Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism. In­deed, he re­jected the la­bels that were as­cribed to his own work and that of close friends, such as Min­i­mal­ism and ABC Art. “‘Cri­sis,’ ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ary,’ and the like,” he ob­served, “were sim­i­lar at­tempts to sim­plify the sit­u­a­tion, but through its his­tor­i­cal lo­ca­tion in­stead of its na­ture.” Judd, what­ever the uni­fied look of his own work, ap­plauded the plu­ral­ism of the early 1960s. He saw a sit­u­a­tion in which “a lot of new artists” had “de­vel­oped their work as sim­ply their own work. There were al­most no groups and there were no move­ments.” He be­lieved not in world his­tory but in what he called lo­cal his­tory.

Judd had his first one-man show at the Green Gallery in New York in 1963, at a time when he was as ac­tive as a critic as he would ever be. He ex­hib­ited a num­ber of works that hung on the wall and be­haved rather like paint­ings, even as their curved and con­vex edges, in­sis­tently sym­met­ri­cal com­po­si­tions, and el­e­ments of gal­va­nized iron and alu­minum put gallery­go­ers on no­tice that they were deal­ing not with metaphors but with ac­tu­al­i­ties. Per­haps even more ar­rest­ing were a few works that Judd set on the floor. With their blunt, car­pen­tered wooden shapes, they sug­gested enig­matic in­ven­tions not yet un­der copy­right. The most strik­ing was a right an­gle made of two pieces of wood painted cad­mium red, with a black pipe fit­ted be­tween them and also right-an­gled, so as to cre­ate a pok­er­faced jux­ta­po­si­tion of right-an­gled red wood and right-an­gled black pipe.

The in­scrutabil­ity of Judd’s work, which some might be tempted to de­scribe as a Pla­tonic cool, could more ac­cu­rately be de­scribed as an im­pas­sioned par­tic­u­lar­ity. The key to it is to be found in the dis­tinc­tion be­tween emo­tions and sen­sa­tions that Judd made when he wrote about Pol­lock. From the very first, he wanted to present gallery­go­ers with sur­pris­ing sen­sa­tions. In the early work ex­hib­ited at the Green Gallery, it was sen­sa­tions of rec­ti­lin­ear­ity, right-an­gled­ness, curved­ness, and red­ness. Judd turned his back on nar­ra­tive or sto­ry­telling, which ab­stract artists from Kandin­sky and Bran­cusi to de Koon­ing and David Smith had not so much jet­ti­soned as reimag­ined in non­nat­u­ral­is­tic ways. Judd hun­gered for some­thing sharp, clear, and im­me­di­ate. He was for be­ing, not be­com­ing. In 1989, look­ing back to the ide­al­ism of the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Judd re­marked that “Mon­drian tried to keep the larger view in mind, while I, we, are not sure that there is a larger view.” That “we” is strik­ing—a dec­la­ra­tion of a com­mu­nal sense of di­min­ish­ment. For all the aloof, man­darin el­e­gance of his art, Judd was in many re­spects a char­ac­ter­is­tic fig­ure of the later 1960s and early 1970s, when the ini­tial hopes of the Civil Rights move­ment and Lyn­don John­son’s Great So­ci­ety had given way to de­spair fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tions of Martin Luther King, Mal­colm X, and Robert Kennedy, the trau­mas of the in­ner cities, the strug­gles of the an­ti­war move­ment, and the ever-grow­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the left. Judd’s work was fu­eled by a de­ter­mi­na­tion to cre­ate some­thing ex­traor­di­nar­ily lu­cid in a world where con­fu­sion reigned. He had no choice but to em­brace the par­tic­u­lar and en­large it—en­no­ble it. Like so many men and women of his gen­er­a­tion, he be­lieved in be­gin­ning again, re­think­ing every as­pect of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. There is some­thing in Judd’s self-re­liant, can-do at­ti­tude that brings to mind the sen­si­bil­ity of the Whole Earth Cat­a­log, which was first pub­lished in 1968. Judd’s imag­i­na­tion, in which an in­stinc­tive skep­ti­cism is shot through with flashes of hope, makes him an ex­em­plary artis­tic fig­ure to con­tem­plate in con­sid­er­ing those trou­bled times.

In the first flush of fame, when some New York real es­tate was still rel­a­tively af­ford­able, Judd bought a ca­st­iron build­ing at 101 Spring Street. The year was 1968, decades be­fore SoHo be­came the shop­ping mall it is to­day. Judd was one among a group of artists

who were de­ter­mined to pre­serve the old in­dus­trial neigh­bor­hoods of down­town New York and re­vi­tal­ize them as artists’ neigh­bor­hoods. Here was lo­cal his­tory in ac­tion. “Ev­ery­thing that can be stopped, started, run by a com­mu­nity should be run by that com­mu­nity,” he wrote in 1971. “The de­ci­sion to del­e­gate some­thing to a wider area, say the city or the county, should be very care­fully made.” Judd had an al­most utopian vi­sion of hu­man so­ci­ety; he wanted to get back to ba­sics.

The build­ing he bought was a beau­ti­ful, sim­ple struc­ture, five sto­ries high, on the corner of Spring and Mercer Streets, with the cast-iron grid of the façade fram­ing ex­pan­sive planes of glass. Twenty years later, he wrote lov­ingly about this struc­ture, de­signed by Ni­cholas Whyte, “whose only other ca­st­iron build­ing is in Brazil.” He noted the ru­inous state of the in­te­rior when he bought it, and how he care­fully re­stored it. He char­ac­ter­ized the build­ing as “a right an­gle of glass. The façade is the most shal­low per­haps of any in the area and so is the fur­thest fore­run­ner of the cur­tain wall.”

He de­scribed it as if it were one of his own sculp­tures. “The given cir­cum­stances were very sim­ple: the floors must be open; the right an­gle of win­dows on each floor must not be in­ter­rupted; and any changes must be com­pat­i­ble.” In this build­ing, which Judd spec­u­lated had been used for the man­u­fac­ture and sale of some sort of cloth, he found an aes­thetic that some­how pre­fig­ured his own. He ar­gued for this not as some grand his­tor­i­cal con­tin­uum but as a par­tic­u­lar affin­ity—an artist of the later twen­ti­eth cen­tury sens­ing some con­nec­tion with an ar­chi­tect of a cen­tury ear­lier.

“Fi­nally,” Judd wrote in 1988, “the only ground you have is the ground you stand on.” It was that search for some­thing steady—some foun­da­tion on which to build and live—that in­spired not only Judd’s fas­ci­na­tion with down­town New York but also his in­creas­ing in­volve­ment with the life and land­scape of the Amer­i­can South­west. He was al­ready be­com­ing in­ter­ested in cacti and Na­tive Amer­i­can ce­ram­ics and rugs in the early 1970s, when he be­gan look­ing for a place where he might spend time and work and per­haps dis­play some of his larger com­po­si­tions along with some by his friends. He found his way to Marfa, Texas, a town south of El Paso, near the Mex­i­can bor­der. In an es­say about Marfa that he wrote in 1985, Judd brought a la­conic pas­sion to his de­scrip­tion of the land. “The area of West Texas was fine, mostly high range­land drop­ping to desert along the river, with moun­tains over the edge in every di­rec­tion. There were few peo­ple and the land was un­dam­aged.” For Judd, this mea­sured, steady de­scrip­tion was high praise in­deed.

Ever en­tre­pre­neur­ial when it came to find­ing a way for­ward with his work, Judd soon enough bought a num­ber of build­ings in the prac­ti­cally aban­doned town of Marfa and then took over an old army base, which he turned into the Chi­nati Foun­da­tion. Much of the writ­ing of his later years—whether done in Texas, New York, or Switzer­land, where he also spent time—con­cerns his evolv­ing vi­sion of places to work, ex­hibit art, and live. He be­came in­ter­ested in de­sign­ing fur­ni­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture and wrote about the dif­fer­ences be­tween func­tional and non­func­tional ob­jects, of­ten look­ing back with a crit­i­cal eye to the ex­per­i­ments of the Bauhaus and the De Stijl move­ment in Europe. He sounded off about the state of con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture, prais­ing Louis Kahn and rag­ing against the post­mod­ernism that Philip John­son was ad­vo­cat­ing for at the time. John­son be­came a bête noire. Even his Miesian Glass House, al­most uni­ver­sally ad­mired, came in for crit­i­cism; Judd called it “dis­creetly vul­gar.”

Some of the most in­ter­est­ing of Judd’s later writ­ings are about artists whom he ad­mired and whose work he even­tu­ally ex­hib­ited at the Chi­nati Foun­da­tion. He wrote about artists of his gen­er­a­tion and de­voted a long es­say to an enor­mous horse­shoe, Mon­u­ment to the Last Horse, by Olden­burg and Coosje van Bruggen, which was set up at Chi­nati in the 1990s. His taste re­mained un­pre­dictable. He took a great in­ter­est in a Swiss geo­met­ric painter, Richard Paul Lohse, who has re­mained rel­a­tively un­known in the United States. And at a time when Josef Al­bers had come to be seen by many as a some­what out­dated fig­ure, Judd em­braced his work with con­sid­er­able vigor. The clos­ing es­say in the new col­lec­tion, “Some As­pects of Color in Gen­eral and Red and Black in Par­tic­u­lar” (1993), is a mag­nif­i­cent piece of writ­ing in which Judd reaches far and wide as he ex­plains the think­ing be­hind his own op­u­lently col­ored late wall-hang­ing works. He ex­plains: “The last real pic­ture of real ob­jects in a real world was painted by Courbet.” The real, the im­me­di­ate, is al­ways what he’s af­ter. “Color is like ma­te­rial,” he writes at one point. “It is one way or an­other, but it ob­du­rately ex­ists. Its ex­is­tence as it is is the main fact and not what it might mean, which may be noth­ing.” Here we see the core of Judd’s vi­sion, a pu­rity that’s pre­cisely not Pla­tonic, that’s anti-ideal—a pu­rity of the real. Think­ing about Mon­drian, Male­vich, and Van Does­burg, he finds him­self won­der­ing why “it is ide­al­is­tic—even what does that mean—to want to do some­thing new and ben­e­fi­cial, prac­ti­cal also, in a new civ­i­liza­tion.” Judd wanted to lib­er­ate the search for the new from the search for some ideal.

The new vol­ume, beau­ti­fully de­signed, would have cer­tainly pleased Don­ald Judd. There are more than eight hun­dred pages of text and more than a hun­dred of il­lus­tra­tions, con­tained in a for­mat so com­pact and well con­structed that it can eas­ily be held in the hand. The bright orange can­vas cov­ers are strong but flex­i­ble. And the orange is beau­ti­fully set off by the cerulean blue end­pa­pers, for an ef­fect that has some of the drama of Judd’s own late poly­chrome works. The pages of his pri­vate notes, of­ten quite brief, are a wel­come ad­di­tion to the writ­ings we al­ready know. They of­fer a dif­fer­ent kind of read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence—quick, glanc­ing, some­times witty. Judd can il­lu­mi­nate an en­tire era in a few sen­tences. This is what he has to say about Bernini, that com­mand­ing fig­ure of the Ro­man Baroque: “Bernini made re­li­gion, sup­pos­edly the na­ture of the world, per­sonal. And so re­li­gious art and ar­chi­tec­ture ended; af­ter that it was sen­ti­men­tal and aca­demic.” Judd is sug­gest­ing that a ge­nius can, all at once, bril­liantly trans­form and cat­a­stroph­i­cally ter­mi­nate a tra­di­tion. I wish this new col­lec­tion in­cluded some of the short re­views that Judd pub­lished in Arts in the early 1960s, be­cause they re­flect the reach of his imag­i­na­tion. Al­though they are part of the Com­plete Writ­ings 1959–1975—which is now back in print—they would have helped give a fuller pic­ture of Judd’s think­ing in what is bound to be­come the es­sen­tial col­lec­tion of his prose. Those short re­views are cer­tainly of more sig­nif­i­cance than the sev­enty page cri­tique of the col­lec­tor Giuseppe Panza in­cluded here, in which Judd lays out an al­to­gether cred­i­ble in­dict­ment of this Ital­ian who took it upon him­self to make unau­tho­rized ver­sions of some of his work. Judd in high dud­geon is fun to read, but his ve­he­mence is most ex­cit­ing when grounded in deep thought. When he en­ti­tled a two-part es­say “Com­plaints,” he knew that he could get away with that al­most self­mock­ing ti­tle be­cause he was a per­son who didn’t just com­plain. There was sub­stance to his gripes. He was spot on when he com­plained about the ba­nal­ity with which his art and the art of his friends was ex­hib­ited in most gal­leries and mu­se­ums. The elo­quent in­stal­la­tions of his own work in Marfa prove that he knew of what he spoke. Judd was a vi­sion­ary—a vi­sion­ary of the real. Read­ing Judd, I am re­minded of the prophetic voices of cer­tain nine­teenth--

and early-twen­ti­eth-cen­tury artists and writers—of Gau­guin, Kandin­sky, Pound, and Lawrence. What­ever Judd’s skep­ti­cism about the ide­al­ism of early-twen­ti­eth-cen­tury ab­strac­tion, he ad­mired the great mod­ern vi­sion­ar­ies, es­pe­cially Male­vich and Mon­drian, and he brought some of the quick­en­ing power of their man­i­festos into his own writ­ing. Prophetic fig­ures who cas­ti­gate the so­ci­eties that formed them are al­most in­evitably para­dox­i­cal fig­ures. Judd was cer­tainly aware that a prophet can set off com­plex, even masochis­tic re­ac­tions in his con­tem­po­raries, who em­brace (or at least half em­brace) his crit­i­cisms as a way of ex­pi­at­ing what they may be in­clined to re­gard as their own sins. What is per­haps Judd’s most fa­mous di­a­tribe, the two-part “A Long Dis­cus­sion Not About Mas­ter-Pieces but Why There Are So Few of Them,” orig­i­nally pub­lished in Art in Amer­ica in 1983 and 1984, can still send a shiver of ex­cite­ment and con­fu­sion down the spines of peo­ple who first read it more than thirty years ago. No won­der Judd had an am­biva­lent re­la­tion­ship with so many crit­ics, cu­ra­tors, and col­lec­tors. Even as he glee­fully pointed out their mis­takes, they li­on­ized him and made him a wealthy man.

Judd be­gan his “Long Dis­cus­sion” with a line from Gertrude Stein: “Ev­ery­thing is against them.” Judd was em­bold­ened by a bat­tle. But in his art, his writ­ing, and his life, he was never any­thing less than a man of af­fir­ma­tions. He af­firmed the as­ton­ish­ing beauty of what some might dis­miss as or­di­nary things: a box car­pen­tered of ply­wood; an alu­minum con­struc­tion painted in shades of red, yel­low, blue, orange, and black; a sim­ple declar­a­tive sen­tence. He re­minds us that the or­di­nary can be ex­tra­or­di­nary. If a man can be a prag­matic utopian, that man is Don­ald Judd.

Don­ald Judd at an ex­hi­bi­tion of his work at the Whitechapel Gallery, Lon­don, 1970

Don­ald Judd: Un­ti­tled, cad­mium red light oil, blue-gray oil, and wax on can­vas, 69 x 101 x 2 1/12 inches, 1962

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