Monument to the Last Horse: Animo et Fide by Donald Judd

This essay first appeared in Large-Scale Projects by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1994; Text Judd Foundation 2007, licensed by VAGA, NY, NY.

If the stake to which the horse is hitched is in Dallas and the rear left horseshoe is in the Big Bend, the horse shades half of Texas. The horseshoe is left because it looks like a hammer and sickle that's bent and broken. The rear right horseshoe may be planted on the ground, larger and heavier. It seems that it's hard to tell that they're alike.

On the third of February 1989 I was in Dallas installing a show of my work at the Dallas Museum of Art. The night before sleet had coated Dallas with an eighth of an inch of ice, the skyscrapers and all. It was certainly an instance of hell freezing over. The quarter-of-an-inch-thick facades of the plastic skyscrapers were coated with an eighth of an inch of ice, like crackers sealed in plastic. I had walked carefully from the Adolphus Hotel nearby. There were no cars. I was told that City Hall was debating whether or not to beg the Yankees for some salt for the streets. The museum was closed to the public and there were few of the staff, who had been atypically helpful, to work on the show. While waiting in the glazed crackerjack box for the salt to come, for the ice to melt, for help, I started to write about the rope tied to the stake near the center of the museum, which is a cross in plan, as banal as possible, but still a cross, leaving four corner rooms. The museum is very ordinary but could still be worse, as most are. Perhaps the stake is through the heart of Ed Barnes's indifferent building. Mediocrity is our monster. One foot is in Europe, three here, at least. Of course it's a centipede.

The rope tied to the stake is very fine. The museum should be blamed for its architecture but should be praised for commissioning the work, a great work, and building it in place, installing it permanently, in its better heart. It was a small issue to a curator as to whether I minded it in the middle of my show. I didn't mind it. I mind the millipede. The scale of the work is larger than that of the museum, if it can be said to have any scale. The stake goes through the floor and the rope through the roof, which turns the museum into the little plastic shell that it is. The horse outside does the same to the trivial skyscrapers.

I was a child in Dallas in the thirties. In comparison with Omaha, from which we had moved, the city was clean, prosperous, and agreeable, except for segregation, which was new and strange, unimaginable anywhere, like the American military now. Omaha, though, accomplished nearly the same with a ghetto. Dallas is still clean and prosperous but it's very disagreeable, and it has the second highest rate of crime in the United States, as if the cause of crime is noxious aesthetics. I was critical of the shopping center in Highland Park, built in Spanish Colonial style, and also of the art museum under construction in the same style. In Omaha I disliked the houses built in Tudor style, or as imitations of chateaux, or in Greek Revival style, and of course disliked these in Dallas as well. Kansas City also has a Spanish Colonial shopping center. The suburbia of Dallas had a low skyline of Tudor peaks, occasional crenellation, pediments, and edges of red tile, maybe six styles, and no thought, nothing congruous to the southern prairie but a little "Prairie style" mixed with the six. In the small downtown there were short skyscrapers trying to be tall. The low skyline of the suburbia of the thirties is now the high skyline of downtown Dallas, pediments, mansard roofs, thirties deco towers, plastic towers, jogging along higher up, still six genealogically debased ideas.

The rough red stake and the rugose orange-brown rope are a pair of colors and a pair of textures. The stake is not a railroad spike or a woodsplitting spike from North America, like Paul Bunyan's. The design is more European. The elongated, hexagonal cross section looks distorted, but is regular, which is especially evident in the point that protrudes from the basement ceiling and is signed by Claes and Coosje. The rope seems to be pulled through the vault of the roof, but also lifts, and is inordinately long, like an ancient Greek erection. The slight curve from the base, and throughout upward, the inward curve of the knot below are familiar, as is the texture. The curve loops back through the loop of the bow of the tied end of the rope and onward in the free end. The rope goes up but it also goes down. John Donne writes that at night elephants knot their trunks so that a mouse can't crawl up inside to gnaw their brains: "In which as in a gallery this mouse,/Walk'd and surveid the roomes of this vast house,/ And to the braine, the soules bedchamber, went." The defensive knot lies around the stake and above Texas is an elephant. And perhaps in the west the horseshoe is on a Democratic donkey, while in the east a Republican elephant is tethered to the stake. After all they are the same from end to end. The mouse gnaws at the small brain of the large state. The exaggeration obscures the newfound land. And maybe it's not one animal but a donkey kicking up a heel humping an elephant, making right-wing liberals. The seven feet stomp on Texas. But the Yankees sent the salt. Texans began to arrive. That was the end of the analysis of form, or of metaphor. Contrary to everyone in the art business, good art always has strong, clear form. That is part of the definition of art.

Abyssally matching the elephant, Donne writes that the whale is so huge that "Swimme in him swallow'd Dolphins, without fear,! And feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were/Some Inland sea." Driving elsewhere later through the salt slush, the taxi driver said, "It's real cold weather blues." I remember on winter mornings in Dallas thin radially ribbed ice on the puddles. Also, the driver in Susdal ordinarily turned the corner by braking and sliding. The ice on the Volga at Yaroslavl was a meter and seventy-five centimeters thick. A bear stood overĀ· looking it. The thin ice made Dallas look even more like a Potemkin village. Thick ice would unify the styles. Hell, the one below, might stay frozen over all summer, keeping Sherman home.

The horseshoe didn't drop out of the blue, although it seems to be landing. I didn't expect it. I didn't pay for it. It's a present to the Chinati Foundation, a gift horse to examine, from Claes and Coosje. Its construction by Alfred and Don Lippincott was financed by making eight smaller horseshoes, one-sixth in size to sell, which was an idea of Brooke Alexander's, who is a member of the Foundation. When Hernando Pizarro's horseshoes wore out he shod his horses with silver. To aid this enterprise, the Pace Gallery purchased two of the horseshoes, as well as arranging for the large one to be shown in front of Mies van der Rohe's building in New York. Since artists are often expected to work for little or nothing, the only so-called professionals who do, I'm concerned not to ioin the exploiters, and so can only consider the horseshoe unquestioningly as a miracle, not yet on the ground, like Gabriel at the Annunciation. I consider the horseshoe a gift of solidarity between artists, an aspect of life that has been nearly unknown to me. The separation of all activities in the United States is extreme. The separation of artists is nearly complete, which is partly due, happily, to their great individualism in the fifties and sixties, but which has had sad consequences, including exploitation. Some artists had more to do with others than most; I must have been the most unsociable. Anyway, art is our activity and we need to hang together. As Ben predicted, we're being hung separately by an empire of bureaucrats with interests at best not those of art, with at worst the intent to make art mediocre to conform to the mishmash which is the prevailing six attitudes visible throughout the world. All Americans have been hung separately by their own empire. (July 4, 1778: "We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. ")

The chronology of the horseshoe, the Monument to the Last Horse, relies on Claes's notes, as art historians say in their language. Claes and Coosje, with their children, Paulus and Maartie, first came to Marfa on the twenty-sixth of November 1981. Claes made eight-millimeter films. Claes and Coosje came again on the twenty-fourth of October 1987. Coosie proposed making a sculpture for the Chinati Foundation. Claes says, "Looking for a way to respond to the landscape, history of the place, both past and present." He heard the story of Louie, the last horse, and measured the existing monument, more of a tombstone, which once had a circular epitaph painted on it, of which we have a photograph. Claes made drawings for the Monument to the Last Horse. He notes, "Visit to ranch with Don, where I find a horseshoe. Nail picked up later on road behind barracks. Concept of placing adobe over a steel skeleton of horseshoe. Visit site at sunrise." They went back to New York and Claes made the first model, using the shoe and nail, at Lippincott. The ninth of August 1988 they came back to Texas. Claes says "August 12-drawing for mock-up based on the model, showing position and scale. Enlargement to full-size patterns in paper which are sawed out of plywood and painted in tool shed. August 13-erection of full-scale mock-up over original base in rain with lightning." We left the mock-up outside for a couple of weeks but I worried that the rain would ruin it and we moved it inside the Arena, the gymnasium of the fort, where it was when we had our fiesta on the eighth of October. It was very large indoors. Since it was cut out of plywood, it was flat, all in one plane, supported by a pipe. It was clear when the mock-up was outdoors, that its size and scale were right. It was in a great deal of space. The finished work, of course complex, looks, seeing it many times, very strong and fine, from very far and from nearby. It's in a fairly undefined space, nearly an open field, in which it's difficult to place anything meaningfully beyond Wallace Stevens's jar on a hill, the beginning though. Coosje and David Platzker came to Marfa on the twenty-first of July 1989. It was the week of a series of lectures on astronomy in Alpine, twenty-five miles away, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the McDonald Observatory, forty miles away in another direction. The full-sized monument was made during 1990 and 1991. It was installed in New York from June through August 1991 and installed permanently at the Chinati Foundation on the tenth of September 1991. Claes and David came to Marfa on the eleventh of October, and on the twelfth at the fiesta, without lightning and thunder, Claes inaugurated the monument, saying that it was up to us to make af it what we could. Bill Renfroe rode by on his horse. Pipe Major Joe Brady led the crowd back to the Arena, playing on the pipes the piobaireachd The Unjust Incarceration.

Louis was designated the last horse of the United States Cavalry at Fort D.A. Russell on the fourteenth of December 1932 and was buried, presumably shot. This sentimental gesture inaugurated the use of tanks in preparation for World War II. As a child, my view, of course, of the United States was that it was normal, boring, but normal. Segregation was exotic, from elsewhere, beyond normality, beyond my furthest understanding. The United States is as boring as ever, but instead of the one aspect that I knew was abnormal, the country as a whole has become a monster, an enormous military freak, in size beyond anything before, uniquely beyond even the lowest reasons of history. I remember visiting Fort Kearny near Omaha in the thirties. It was very clean and neat and orderly and so hierarchical in the sizes of its houses that it didn't seem real. The cannon here and there were like French 75's or those of the so-called Civil War, two wheels and a barrel, to be drawn by a team of horses. The fort was like the toy soldiers that I played with, Germans and Americans, except that it seemed earlier, placed against the Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and the Omaha nearby. Peace was a matter of course. The U.S. Army was very small then. The public favored that and was still opposed to a draft. The economy became bad; the government needed a solution; Roosevelt needed to remain; they needed a war. Fort Russell used to be Camp Marfa, established to control the border during the revolution in Mexico, with horses, but also with some airplanes east of town. There was a list of twenty rules for pilots. Number eighteen was that pilots were forbidden to fly with their spurs on. In the late thirties the present large fort was built and a large airfield east of town, both for training, Fort Russell for artillery. It also had a Chemical Warfare Unit. Later there were German prisoners, probably from North Africa. The fort and the airfield were not built after Pearl Harbor. War was needed. War was planned. A lot of money had been spent. It couldn't be wasted, as someone said of the atomic bomb. Maybe both the tombstone and the monument are a memorial to the good old days of Fort Kearny, though not good for the Omahas.

Now we should discuss the metaphorical aspects of the work, its paradigmatic content, even its metametaphorics. Of course low relief on a wall has occurred everywhere up to now. Freestanding low relief is rare, pierced or open freestanding low relief even more so. The next is sculpture against a wall in one plane, which is perhaps high relief, not open. Then there is freestanding high relief, closed. Almost the only open sculptures in one plane, a little more than one plane, are David Smith's, such as Hudson River Landscape. Claes's horseshoe is related to this form. It's not in one plane as the mock-up was, it's definitely three-dimensional, but it's based on the flat horseshoe; it was flat and now it's twisted into a shape probably several feet deep, sometimes called three-dimensional form by old scholars. This is a very nice curve, a single curve, like a gesture, like a question mark, like the grin of a question mark, or of a metaphor. The resemblance to a relief and to David Smith's open planar sculpture is emphasized by one side, the original top of the horseshoe, being smooth, and the other being rough, maybe mud, adobe, Texas cowshit, even American bullshit, maybe chocolate. No more buffalo. An exaggerated nail pierces the depth of the horseshoe, extends its depth, clarifies its depth, through the upper rim like an arrow from an honest Injun. Or, metaphorically, like Machiavelli's blue, bad, crippling nail, nailing Christ to the communist cross. They say that this visual and spatial reality, which no one seems to see, is called form. The belief in what you are doing is in the form. If the form isn't developed the artist's interest is elsewhere, probably in the art and museum business, or more likely isn't an interest in anything, like the skyscrapers of Dallas. It's obvious that after Stalin instituted middle-class conformity as the official visual doctrine of the central government, no communist painter believed in the worker in the picture or even in communism, and so there is not much art, which is also true for the growing commercial, capitalist art. In both cases belief is in a vague and unquestioned generality that cannot produce art.

That's only a sketch without details of the form of the work, a formal grin. Form and belief are nearly the same. Belief and desire, small and large, vague and definite, conventional and individual, are the metaphorical form of Claes's work. There are Gargantuan pretensions toward small desires, like the small, vague desires of the Dallas skyline inflated. There are Gargantuan desires, like that of the United States to rule the world, which are on thin ice. There are small desires with gross results and there are huge desires with no results, or awful ones, but there aren't many great desires with great results. Claes or I or you desire the ice cream cone in one way or another, or several ways. It's an ice cream cone of desire. It's not a Platonic idea of one, an idea still around-there are only six philosophical ideas too-or an Aristotelian investigation into the nature of ice cream cones, which is the illusion of representational art. Most people think, looking out, that what they feel about the landscape, it feels. But it isn't theirs. In their bodies any intrusion, extrusion, hole or inclusion is theirs, large, just right, too lorge, too small, small and just right. It's a case of knowledge and where that knowledge occurs. The desirable ice cream cone is the cone desired. As I wrote awhile ago, Claes's interest is a new world of interest, his new-found land. In an old movie about new sculptors that I first saw lately, Claes, walking toward the camera, says, more or less, that this is a new civilization. No one says this. In his nice speech before the monument he said, as I wrote earlier, that we could make of it what we want. This is a new civilization and we can make of it what we want.

I don't think that there can be good public and good private art, good art in categories, since a category is an institution, therefore placing large works in public spaces is a new problem, its first aspect being that the spaces are almost always threateningly mediocre. The second aspect is that the regard for large work is so low that the artist may as well negotiate at the same time the price of the work and the extent of the beating for it, knowing that the first will decrease and the second increase. Large size in public seems to make the work public, but I think that the work only occurs in public. A third aspect is that the mediocre spaces are not public spaces in the old sense of being political, social, or civil spaces. There is now no commonality for that. The spaces are imposed by commerce or by the government's idea of what is good for the people, which means what is good for the government. The spaces are not a public endeavor. Because of this, and because a large work is simply art, the work cannot represent a public endeavor, be a monument in the old sense. There are no believable new monuments. The reality of social conformity is still present but the admission of it is contrary to its democratic mythology. Therefore the United States Government cannot make believable monuments, either the academic, representational one for the soldiers of Iwo Jima or the academic abstract one for the dead soldiers of Vietnam. Claes's monuments are believable unbelievable monuments, perhaps about the pretension to a public endeavor, or about public endeavors misplaced, and about private desire in public, which may be a private desire that all share, as that for ice cream cones. Careful with that baseball bat. What is small in private may be Gargantuan in public, or the reverse, or both. I assume there are two spellings of satirical, also satyrical.

Practically, there are large questions about what an urban space should be like. It should not be wildly eclectic as in Seoul or Tokyo or wherever postmodern architects build enclaves. Buildings should have some correspondence, but some diversity is necessary. Artificial diversity has not yet been made, diversity at once. More than awhile ago in Missouri, I thought that the art nouveau subway entrances in Paris were a good idea, strange but discrete. later I thought that Miro's sculptures could help. In this way Oldenburg's large works help a lot. Art can be fantastic, or prosaically fantastic, but not architecture. The distinction is clear, for example, in old Japanese art and architecture, where the ferocious guardian defends the quiet open gate.

Over Texas there is a vast and empty donkey and vast and empty elephant, or maybe an empty horse, like a whale, or a vast and empty government. Inside, without touching the walls, little black airplanes fly around, each costing more than the budget of a year for a city, spending in one flight the salary of a year. The United States Government intends to build a high fence of nearly a thousand miles along the Rio Grande in Texas to keep the "wetbacks" out, the Mexican workers. It already has huge balloons to watch the drug business. Having learned from this scale and inflation, they plan to inflate a tent over Texas so that the military planes can fly in peace. The noxious gases of the sewage sent from New York to Texas will keep the tent inflated. Salt won't be necessary. The map of Texas has an interesting shape and is a symbol so that a vast bulbous tent shaped like Texas will look impressive as you fly toward it, more so than the Dallas skyline. It can be air-conditioned too. There will have to be an orifice for the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, an eye of Texas.

Clearly this is a new civilization, if you don't ask too much of it to use the word, and clearly much of it is awful. The awfulness may be due to the usual obtuseness and to the unusual growth in population, both of which may moderate so that the civilization develops, or the awfulness may be a decline, on schedule according to Greece. Our classical period, which is Europe's, another large question, is in the seventeenth century when science passed the point it had reached among the Greeks. As among them, perhaps there is a further point which cannot be passed, because there is no longer enough freedom to do so and no agreement on the necessity to do so. First there was imitation and decoration and then there was a collapse into doctrine for a thousand years. Perhaps now there is no longer enough freedom. Most art looks that way. Science is of little interest to the society. Surprisingly, as with art, some scientists are defensive and try to justify their interests with supposed social benefits. A science-fiction novel described a society in North America five hundred years from now as both feudal and technical. This may happen. Now may be the beginning of a thousand years of a stultified civilization, incapable of real art, since now art won't revive for hypocritical governments, and incapable of real science, since that also cannot be forced. There will be lots of fancy guns and airplanes and lots of myths to conceal the stasis, or one, the one since Constantine of God and Government.

I found a description relevant to Claes's work by Peter Green, who is an historian at the University of Texas in Austin, in his book Alexander to Actium, taken from a description of the procession of Ptolemy Philadelphos in Book IV of Alexandria by Callixeinos of Rhodes:

The procession, held in the city stadium, showed the same kind of ultramontane extravagance. Nike (Victory) figures with gold wings, satyrs with gilt leaves of ivy on their torches, 120 boys carrying saffron an gold platters, gold-crowned Dianysiac revelers, a Delphic tripod eighteen feet high, a four-wheeled cart twenty one feet long by twelve feet wide, a gold mixing bowl that held 150 gallons, a wineskin stitched together from leopard pelts, with a 30,000 gallon capacity (dribbling out its contents along the route), a giant float with fountains gushing milk and wine, the biggest elephants, the tallest actors, six hundred ivory tusks, and goats, camels, ostriches, peacocks, three bear cubs, a giraffe, and an Ethiopian rhinoceros. And gold, gold, gold all the way. The Dionysioc theatrical element, so marked a feature of later Ptolemaic iconography, is already prominent. Perhaps to our way of thinking the most outre item was a gaudily painted gold phallus, almost two hundred feet long-how did it negotiate corners? -and tied up, like some exotic Christmas present, with gold ribbons and bows.

Perhaps Claes is a great Hellenistic artist, the only one. Perhaps he's a great artist of the new civilization. His work, and Rabelais' too, is amiably satirical, and satyrical, tumescent and hedonistic, about everything together. A whole view amiably tolerating is the ultimate argument against intolerance. Possibilities are the defense against doctrine.

The monster larger than the monster of mediocrity is separate and only grim. To me, the society is shown in Goya's painting of Saturn eating his children. I think that Conrad meant that the horror was that of the society in Belgium, and not of Africa.

In a book of essays Peter Green compares the present and the Hellenistic period:

There is a striking-and, far some, alarming-sense of deja vu about the Hellenistic era for a modern reader. The polis--lready under centrifugal pressure from growing individualism and commercial interests -was dealt a fatal blow by Philip of Macedon at Chaeronea (338 B.C.), and finally succumbed, as an institution, to the vast bureaucratic kingdoms established by Alexander's successors and then absorbed piecemeal in the Roman empire. The teeming, polyglot cities of the third and second centuries B.C.-the Alexandria of Theocritus' affluent, concert-going, vapid suburban housewives (Idyll 15)-enerated a new social pattern, characteristic and enduring, what Lewis Mumford has stigmatized as Megalopolis in decline: Rome itself offers the most aggravated example of it. The main features of this pattern are large scale capitalism and free enterprise, authoritarian government, the standardization of culture, the encyclopedic tabulation of science and scholarship, an obsession with mere size and number-the tallest buildings, the vastest food supply-and, for the individual, an increasing sense of alienation, the determined pursuit of affluence, the retreat from political involvement to a private world of social and domestic trivia, a growing preoccupation with change (Tyche), magic astrology, exotic foreign cults, above all, sex. Hellenistic literature emphasized technique and artifice, obscure mythology, arcane scholarship, the psychopathology of character, books made out of books. In poetry and art alike, idealism was out, and realism in-or, more often, the seductive (and at times grotesque) pseudo-realism of kitsch, pastoral, and pornography. The romantic picaresque novel made its appearance, and proved vastly popular (it took the upper-crust Roman genius of Petronius to put a satirical pill inside the sugar). Small wonder, then, that the past few years have witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of interest in Hellenistic culture: for this troubled age of ours it offers, even more than the fourteenth century A.D., that "distant mirror" so brilliantly formulated by Barbara Tuchman. It shows us our own flawed humanity.

J. M. Bury, just before World War I, wrote:

Hopeful people may feel confident that the victory is permanent; that intellectual freedom is now assured to mankind as a possession for ever; that the future will see the collapse of those forces which still work against it and its gradual diffusion in the more backward parts of the earth. Yet history may suggest that this prospect is not assured. Can we be certain that there may not come a great set-back? For freedom of discussion and speculation was, as we saw, fully realized in the Greek and Roman world, and then an unforeseen force, in the shape of Christianity, came in and laid chains upon the human mind and suppressed freedom and imposed upon man a weary struggle to recover the freedom which he had lost. Is it not conceivable that something of the same kind may occur again? That some new force, emerging from the unknown, may surprise the world and cause a similar set-back?

A return to Hellenism or feudalism may not be the worst that can happen, considering the population. It may be worse already, considering the size of the institutions. When the mouse went up the elephant's trunk it was light outside. There was light at the end of the tunnel. When it came down it was dark, like inside. A friend in Zurich once won two tickets to go by boat down the Rhine, but the boat broke halfway. Earlier he had gone by train on a tunnelfahrt, a tour of four days through the tunnels of the Alps. Daylight was the interruption; darkness was the event; and at night nothing.

The horseshoe is unusual for Claes in that it is a skeleton, nearly all exterior, not quite. It has the flat substance to the narrow width of his old candy bars. There is no inside; it's the inside. The garden hose in Freiburg has an exterior, but certainly it has a lengthy interior, where trains may run uninterrupted by daylight, forever, or only by a pinhole every two thousand years. I have a building in New York with a cast iron facade that has seven stories, two underground, seven large spaces, five sunny, reasonable and visible. Between the seven floors and ceilings and within the right angle of the similarly shallow facade is a continuous dark, unseen space. You can hear the trains. Rats, not mice, run in this vast grid of thick planes but shallow spaces. Everything isn't what it seems to be; everything is what it seems to be. Russell says of everything, which Einstein liked, as A. J. Ayer says: "Naive realism leads to physics, and physics, if true, shows that naive realism is false. Therefore naive realism if true, is false: therefore it is false." "Naive realism" is more or less "common sense."

There is a thin inside, a large inside, a vast inside, a collapsed inside capable of being a fat outside, a spongy inside, and there is a soft, fat outside-who knows what's inside-a hard fat outside, a hard skinny outside, like the garden hose, and there is no light inside. Is life big or little? It's short. If it's big and short or even long, is a big love big or little? If life is little can there be a big love or desire or uneasiness, as Locke says, impetus, as Russell says? This is like the bulge in a rattlesnake. Desire swallowed. Elephants and rattlesnakes regard mice differently. There could be a bulge in the garden hose.

But at least, after all, only, like the jar on the hill, more quietly, less purposefully, almost accidentally, the horseshoe found on the land signifies "Paso por aqui."


Related reading

Monument to the Last Horse by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen