Donald Judd: 21 February ’93

Donald Judd
21 February 93

Any work of art, old or new, is harm­ed or helped by where it is placed. This can almost be considered objec­tively, that is, spatially. Further, any work of art is harmed or helped—almost always harmed—by the meaning of the situation in which it is placed. There is no neutral space, since space is made, indifferently or intentionally, and since meaning is made, ignorantly or knowledgeably. This is the beginning of my concern for the surroundings of my work. These are the simplest circumstances which all art must confront. Even the smallest single works of mine are affected.

My work, whether indoors or out­doors, ranges from that which can be placed on any flat surface, floor or wall or ceiling, or on the ground, with no intention of space other than that implied by the work, to work which articulates part of a room or some of an area outdoors, to work which is virtually the whole room or an area outdoors. The smallest, simplest work creates space around it, since there is so much space with­in. This is new in art, not in architec­ture of course. An old sculpture, great as if is, from any civilization, is monolithic; it is the stone that Dr. Johnson kicked at Harwich and not the glass that you pick up. There are few recent precedents, first that of Giacometti’s standing figures, which are the apple core of their spatial apple, and then Newman’s related vertical sculpture/ and, also linear, Olle Baertling’s sculpture. David Smith’s work, for example, is the last of the stone in the field. It is the placement of Stevens’s jar on a hill, fundamental, but the least devel­oped articulation by a work of art. The jar itself, like the glass, is new, A Greek sculpture is the stone; the building that it was in is space.

Or, looking backwards, Giaco­metti’s apple core is not the center of an expanded space but is the resi­due of a solid. All earlier sculptures are solids, which have been carved, from stones in Scotland with cup-marks to David, (bronzes represent solids and originate in solids; Japanese wooden sculpture was usu­ally assembled but is meant to look as if it was carved from one piece). The resulting space is primarily negative, which is inherent in repre­sentation; the space is pictorial. The articulation of the solids in one work, in appearance or reality from one piece of stone or wood, a lump no matter how convoluted, is always much more important than the articu­lation of the resulting spaces. The space around the work is only somewhere from which to look toward the continuous solids. Very generally as to meaning, all earlier sculpture, East or West, is totemic, from the altered stone to David. (The installation of Michelangelo’s sculp­ture in the Accademia is harmful, the least to David.) A god is in the stone, the stone is a god, the sculpture is a god, the sculpture is a representa­tion of a god, the sculpture is a man as a god, it is a representation of a man as a god, it is a representation of a man as a power. God domi­nates or man dominates; god is man-made and man is self-made. Everything is man-made. At the least, this is out of proportion. When I look up at night nothing is man-made. Man as a god was fortunately never made of the highest quality: Alexander was too late and Augustus remained a Roman, in art still Republican. Stalin tried but art history was against him. When art history is forgotten the new powers can have new totems.

I found that if I placed a work on a wall or on the ground, I wondered where it was. I found that if I placed space built around a unit or it requires the amplification of a unit to an enclosure containing a great deal of space. This is so of some large indoor works and of most large outdoor ones.

Works outdoors, then, are either free-standing on a level surface, containing space within, or incorporate a level or a sloped surface or relate to an existing wall or demarcation. Some of the free-standing works are: one made of pipe in ’64 (a nearly square work on the floor with rounded corners, also made in ’64, is the first to laterally enclose considerable space; the works in ’62 and ’63 are the first to be on the floor and the first to cre­ate internal as well as external space; the works on the wall in ’63 and ’64 are the first to be a new form beyond high relief), eight four by four by four foot units painted brown with automobile primer, in ’68 eight units the same size made of stainless steel with the sides re­cessed, and, also in ’68 and of stainless steel, a work four by ten by ten feet, five frames with U-shaped channels; a similar work painted dark green is now in the Museum of Modern Art, and as well in ’68 a work now destroyed, a tubular struc­ture also four by ten by ten feet, one wall within another, made of ano­dized aluminum. In ’69 I made a work of parts that were tubes of folded galvanized iron, each twenty- one inches by twenty inches by one- hundred and twenty inches, stacked in three tiers. This is installed inside against a wall It could have been free-standing outside. A simple small tubular work made of brass, in ’70, is outside. There is a middle-sized granite work in California. There is a single large aluminum work made in ’77 at Northern Kentucky University. There are two related works made of Cor-ten, constructed in ’82, one at Western Washington University in Bellingham and one at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. And, there are the fifteen works in concrete at the Chinati Foundation in Texas.  These are on level land, but specifically, so as to avoid one protruding knoll and to end before another, extending one kilometer, aligned north to south. They were built on damaged land. There are also two very different concrete pieces with walls three centimeters thick instead of twenty-five with internal plates at an angle, one in St. Louis and one destroyed, bearing a relation to several large plywood works indoors, one of which made in ’73 is usually visible in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The first concrete work was made in Venice, California in ’77 and unlike the later ones which are constructed of plates, each unit was poured whole. This is now in the Los Angeles County Museum.

Free-standing works, single or sever­al, on level land are not a problem to place. The land is always benefi­cial as space and if not remade by man has no meaning. Placing free­standing works in cities is a prob­lem. The old parts of cities either assume that there will be a statue in the square or that there will never be one. The new parts usually assume that there is no such thing as art, and, unlike original piazze in Italy in which a statue in the center would be an intrusion, the new public spaces, like the Holy Roman Empire, are neither public nor space. There is no definition of the space; the sur­rounding buildings are an unconsid­ered jumble; the bleak and vacant areas are full of odds and ends. These areas are social and political public spaces only in the least sense of ignorance as meaning. The piazze were highly social and polit­ical and still are: I can tell still that they were much more so than the schematically defined, generalized, somewhat arbitrary spaces of the eighteenth century. De Tocqueville wrote that you can tell the nature of a government by its taxation. You can also tell by its public spaces.

Placing work then in public is diffi­cult. There is no context, either for the space of the work or of real meaning. If art is finally thought of, the delay, like a course in art history, seems to make it impossible to get to the present and so something like a statue or a monument is suggested. This is what is in front of skyscrapers everywhere. This is the possibility I rejected in ’83 in Providence, pro­posing a structure or several that would be developed and integral. A middle-sized work is impossible. It becomes a statue or a monument, only in my case, lying down, A large single work has so much material and space that, uneasily, it defends itself. A large work with several parts is, simply, large, and, impor­tantly, much more horizontal, escap­ing the suggestion of the totem requested. The replica of David, incidentally, in the original position in front of the Palazzo Vecchio looks much better than the real David in the Accademia: the sculpture also has integrity. It also has a meaning not generally known: it was commis­sioned by the Florentine Republic as a warning to tyrants.

Some of the works incorporating a level or a sloped surface outdoors are, first in ’71, a work in St, Louis made of stainless steel with inner and outer vertical walls. The edge of the inner one is parallel to the land and the edge of the outer one is level. I am fond of this idea and used it on the scale of a city block in one place I have in Texas. The work in St. Louis is particular to the land since the slope of the land determines its angles and since the land becomes part of the space and continues to exist undisturbed inside. An impor­tant aspect of the idea of parallel and level walls is that asymmetry becomes logical. Basically it is only symmetry that is sensible, A square work seven and a half meters to a side was also made in ’71 for an exhibition, always temporary, in the lake, one to the right, with the rings reversed, the outer level and the inner parallel, and two opposite in the lake, the left a double ring flush with the water, with the space between a space in the water, and right a single ring flush enclosing the large area of water within at a meter or a meter and a half below the sur­face of the lake.

Again, a work on the land is not a problem, as in Munster, which also is a more agreeable city than most, despite the effort in the war other­wise. But also a work incorporating an urban area or part of an area is easier because the work has a great­er capacity for definition, reducing the harm of the surroundings. And again, it is larger. The empty, bleak Sonsbeek Park in Arnhem. In this the edge of the inner wall was level and the outer parallel to the slope. Also in ’71, a circular work was made incorporating both walls into one concrete wall, the outer parallel and the inner level. The previously en­closed narrow space enclosing a large space is here an extended solid enclosing a large space. It is seven meters sixty-two centimeters in diameter. A related triangle, also of concrete, was made in Adelaide in ’74. The largest work of this kind is the one in Munster made in ’77. There are two concrete rings, the outer fifteen meters in diameter, fol­lowing the slope of the land to the Aasee, an artificial lake in the city. The inner ring is level. The two solid rings enclose a narrow space. All three enclose a large space. Later I proposed three more circles, and banal plaza is gone. The impli­cation of the plaza with a monument in the center is also gone. These large works, as in the city block in Texas, can define very large areas of land, which otherwise remain vague and useless and conspicuous­ly left-over, as among high-rise apartments such as those of Stuyvesant Town in New York City, an early example, and those every­where in Russia. Le Corbusier’s idea is possibly a bad idea but beyond that it has been thoroughly debased. The buildings are never in a park; the land is always left-over, probably first bull-dozed flat. The articulation of urban land, of damaged land, of reused land, is one of the big problems. Most open urban land, as I said, has no articulation. It is even a fashion to destroy what there was to make malls, the curbs and sidewalks for example in the Kohlmarkt in Vienna, or to renew or rebuild the surface so as to destroy the context of existing buildings, as Kleihues did with the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg by raising the surround­ing level and hiding the bases of the buildings. Me made a vast area of brick inlaying a spindly flower between. I suppose he sent a bill for this. He also ruined the floor inside the larger one. An earlier example of this problem to the contrary is the park in front of the Paleis Lange Voorhout, whose floor I designed this year, in The Hague, where with simple means on level land, with nice bricks in patterns and trees of a kind in groups and alleys, something is created out of nothing. Kleihues did the reverse.

The third group of work hasn’t gotten out of doors, the work which would relate to walls or to the walls of buildings. A few works in Cor-ten, one meter by one meter by fifty centi­meters deep, without plexiglas, could go on walls outside. Any of the large plywood pieces, on the floor and against the wall, such as the angled one made in ’72 and the other angled one, that in Canada, and the one square, both from ’73, could be made in concrete, Cor-ten or stainless steel to be outside. The large plywood works which consist of one meter by one meter units on a wall could also be made of a dura­ble material. We are slowly making a work with sixty-three units, one-third of which was shown in the Fundacio Miro, and almost two-thirds in the Musee d’Arte Contemporain and more in the Whitney Museum. A large work, eighty feet long, which was shown in ’81, now destroyed, or a related one, could be made for outdoors. A distantly related work has long been sketched for the ground floor of my building in New York, a cast-iron building, a type which Hames Bogardus thought should have cast-iron beams, which cannot support, and iron floors. Appropriately the work is to be iron, and is to be against the long wall, divided into two parts because of the stairway. Russian churches are often paved with iron plates and these could be cast for the floor, which is not origi­nal. Such a work could also be on two walls or four, forming a court, as will a very large work, about one hundred meters to a side, made of adobe bricks, that I want to build on the Rio Grande. Not much gets made of all the possibilities, yet it’s a lot considering that it’s against the grain.

Space is new in art and is still not a concern of more than a few artists. It is generally accepted that vertical, anthropomorphic, totemic sculpture is no longer possible, although I don’t know that those who believe this know why, but a general interest in space has not replaced the inter­est in such solids. (There are other solids.) There is no vocabulary for a discussion of space in art. There was a traditional vocabulary about space in architecture, about propor­tion, volume and sequence, East and West, but it was discredited in the seventies by the architects who are not architects, and so could not judge. They appropriated the ap­pearance without knowing the sub­stance. For both art and architec­ture, the vocabulary of space of the past should be reconsidered and in relation, but newly, which is not impossible, a vocabulary should be built. There has been more discus­sion of color than space, at least since Goethe and Chevreul, and recently by Albers and Itten, but there is much more to say about color. There is much more to say about art. Color is still new in art. It hardly occurs as a reality in architec­ture. I intend to write about it some for the Sikkens Foundation, which was established for color.1 I remem­ber reading that when the Duke of Gloucester was given the second volume of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he said: “Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?”

This essay, written on the 21st of February, was first published in the catalogue for a show at the Pace Gallery, New York in March and April, 1993: Donald Judd: Large-Scale Works; with essays by Rudi Fuchs and Donald Judd, pp. 9–13.

At the occasion of the award by the Sikkens Foundation in the fall of 1993, Judd wrote the essay: Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular, published by the Sikkens Foundation, Sassenheim, Netherlands in cooperation with the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 1993 and in Artforum, Summer 1994, pp. 7078, 110113.