The following pages present an edited excerpt from an interview that took place on October 4-5, 1993 in Judd’s architecture office and library in Marfa, Texas. It was conducted in conjunction with Wyroll’s 1994 film Bauhaus, Texas, a documentary made for German television about Donald Judd and his work in Marfa. It was Judd’s last interview; he died in February 1994.
Regina Wyrwoll: I’m very curious, when you give a lecture to students, what do you tell them about architecture? What is the main aspect you emphasize?
Donald Judd: That’s a very general question and I always have a lot of trouble with general questions.
RW: How did you find your way into architecture?
DJ: I was always interested in architecture. I was interested as a child and thought about it and made sketches, which I no longer have. To some extent, when I was in the army in Korea, which was 1947 without a war, I thought of being an architect. But I had already, in a way, fundamentally decided to be an artist. And being an artist is primary. But I’m thoroughly interested in architecture. I’ve been doing it for myself for twenty, thirty, forty years, and happily it’s possible now to do it in cooperation with other people.
RW: Where was your first architectural project? Was it here in Marfa?
DJ: It was the building in New York. But all the spaces I lived in New York I reworked for myself — to live in and for my work and for other people’s work. I’ve always had a lot of work by other artists.
RW: Wherever I could see your architecture, I noticed certain materials you use, and certain kinds of structures you consider when you rework an existing building.
DJ: Well, a lot of architects over the past thousands of years have thought the materials were very important, and I think the materials are very important — absolutely fundamental. One of the main criticisms of present architecture would be that the architects are not interested in the materials as materials, as they’re used in the construction. No matter how complex or advanced the construction is, you’re still using materials and that use should be clear. It should be clear that they’re materials. So in some mysterious way, they even manage to make plastic look fake when plastic is already fake. Plastic can be made to look like plastic and therefore relatively real. But almost everything they touch looks fake. For example, the museum by James Sterling in Stuttgart, it’s got a veneer of rock, but it still looks fake.
RW: Is architecture for you an artistic manifestation?
DJ: Yes. I think it has to be. I think it always is.
RW: But you make a very clear distinction between architecture, furniture, and art.
DJ: Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that the furniture or the architecture isn’t artistic. Artistic is an adjective. I think it’s important to have good furniture and good architecture, and especially now, when the buildings built by the architects I’m criticizing are very derivative of art, it’s very important to maintain the distinction between art and architecture. Art is done in a very different way and for a different purpose — very much the purpose of the individual. The architect cannot go against the purpose of the people who use the building, the function of the building. Architecture can be quite individual and ultimately very creative, but it cannot be in opposition to the function of the building. You just get a hunk of junk, like [Hans] Hollein’s buildings.
RW: Why are the rooms you create so wide with so few things inside?
DJ: Partly it’s my judgment — of what I like and how I think things should be. But ultimately, as a general statement, I find it very strange to want to live in a very crowded and dense space. I don’t think it’s very real for human beings. I think it has a lot to do with social status and symbols. It’s very much like the overcrowded Victorian rooms, and a great deal about consumption and showing that consumption.
RW: You have a certain vision about architecture in Marfa — the architecture you are building, rebuilding, or restoring here. What kind of a vision do you have for a city like Marfa?
DJ: Whatever I do here, and in general, anyplace, has to fit into the situation. I reworked the building in New York [101 Spring Street], the interior; it’s a building from 1870. What I did would not have occurred in 1870, but it doesn’t go against the quality of the building. Marfa is a small town built centrally — they probably stopped building in the 1930s because the cattle business went downhill. So it’s a small town with a certain style of architecture. I don’t think a new, strange building, even if it were good, should be built. I don’t think I should put a large contemporary piece of sculpture, for prinexample, out in front of the Chamberlain building. I wouldn’t commission John Chamberlain to put a big piece of his in front of that building because I think it would collide with the nature of the town. It also would be somewhat offensive to some of the people in the town. In some ways they deserve to be offended, but I don’t think you should go out of your way to do it. It’s basically a cattle town of a certain period and you don’t want it to become a cattle town museum. It’s a dying town, but it shouldn’t be dead — it should be maintained as a live cattle town. It doesn’t hurt to add in some buildings that do other things. I don’t think this office, which is on the main corner, is a great contradiction to the town and to the main street. We sandblasted the façade and we fixed up the windows and this space, and it’s now more like it was than it has been for thirty years. The only thing different is that it has unusual furniture inside, but that’s all inside and kind of quiet. So nothing is very extravagant as to what shows on the street.
RW: What is very astonishing for a visitor like me is seeing the Chinati Foundation and the barracks — buildings where soldiers used to live are now filled with art.
DJ: Yes, well, that’s a big improvement.
RW: Were you afraid that this would collide with the old mission of Fort Russell? Now you have this foundation that has become a meeting point for people and for presenting art in a very quiet way.
DJ: The fort was long gone when I got it. It had been empty for decades, ever since just after World War II. And it had been severely damaged, the roofs had been taken off, etc. I was in the army myself, as I said, and I don’t like living in barracks. It doesn’t have much meaning to me as an army installation. It’s a little boring in terms of architecture, but that’s the nature of the army. But otherwise it’s not such a great contradiction.
RW: Isn’t it a contradiction that a soldier’s barracks are now museum spaces or exhibition halls?
DJ: Hmm, I don’t know. The world’s full of old buildings and there’s no use for them. In this case, the buildings didn’t have to be saved. But often buildings should be saved, and the installation of art is one of the useful ways to do that. Europe’s full of old buildings that could be used that way.
RW: You will design the Bahnhof in Basel. I think this will be your first building in Europe.
DJ: Yes. It’s in cooperation with a firm in Basel, mainly Hans Zwimpfer. And the excavation for the railroad tracks begins in early ’94. And that will take a long time, so it’ll be a year or two before any construction starts. Possibly the little building in Bregenz will start before then. So it depends on which one is first.
RW: What are some of your principles when you accept such a task, inside a town like Basel? Do you follow the same principles you’ve already described?… looking at the surroundings, the function of the building?
DJ: Yeah, very much. But this is a new building in Basel, obviously, next to the existing Bahnhof. The surroundings are not unusual, it’s not in an older part of town. It’s over the railroad tracks, so nothing much is being destroyed. The height of the building is restricted already, but it would make sense not to make it higher. You have two or three taller buildings, which are very unfortunate, nearby, which should be chopped in half. So the considerations for what’s around it were not so great. I didn’t have to worry too much about that. If you worked in the older part of Basel, there’d be many more concerns.
RW: What kind of materials will you use? Concrete?
DJ: Well, Zwimpfer worked out a scheme in which the columns are steel, and large concrete panels are set down upon the columns, containing all the wiring and piping and everything, in a so-called sandwich, and those are somehow dropped into place. The floor and the ceiling are exactly the same, concrete and very plain, without — this is all his idea — light switches and sprinkler systems and all the usual stuff. The ceilings, which are a little bit my doing, will be higher than usual, because I don’t like low ceilings. The present scheme now is that the exterior will mostly be glass. It’s an alternating scheme, between the taller parts and areas that serve as courtyards. The taller parts will be a gray glass that you cannot see through and the parts in between, the courtyards or the Hofs, will be clear glass and will actually be courtyards. So it’ll be alternating between middling dark glass that you can’t see through and clear glass that encloses the courtyard. It’ll be a new use of glass, I think.
RW: You have developed a certain style of windows and doors for your architecture. Did you invent, for example, the ones we see in the Arena? Did you develop these while designing your house? Was it all one process?
DJ: I had used that same idea for the library at La Mansana. The doors that swivel were invented for that space, not for the Arena. It was a good idea so I made them over. The gates, I guess, in a way, were invented for the Arena. I also used the swiveling doors and windows in the Chamberlain building.
RW: Don, this project, the Mansana, how did it develop?
DJ: It was originally two warehouses that had been airplane hangars that were moved by the U.S. Army in the thirties from an old airfield out where the golf course is now. The two large buildings were the main attraction for buying the area. Then there was a small building that we call the two-story building. These were very exposed to the highway on one side and the railroad tracks on the other, and to the feed mill. In fact, it was so exposed people used to cut through between the buildings. It was an obvious thing — to put the wall around the whole area. But it took years to complete. The adobes were made from the land right here. I don’t think I figured out the whole scheme right at the beginning, but enclosed the walls according to the lower part of the windows on the highest corner, which is the southeast corner. I don’t know if I had the idea of the slope at that time. I don’t think so. It was a very undetermined piece of land, with a slight slope or sag and a level area that originally had lots of trash. It was also open to the arroyo, which made it susceptible to a certain amount of vandalism. I thought about the whole problem of the level area and the part with the slight slope, and then I realized it had something to do with the piece that I made that’s now in St. Louis, in 1970. The outer part of that piece — the edge of it is level with the horizon, and the inner part slopes with the land, parallel to the slope of the land. So in a way it’s the same idea as here. I increased the slope and made the level part more level, sharply dividing the two. This also was good for drainage — being flat near the arroyo, it tended to flood. And that enclosed part, the sloped area with the wall parallel to the slope of the land, somehow makes a large work of art — it’s about the only combination I have that’s both art and architecture; it’s hard to say just what it is.
RW: Did you add the plants and trees?
DJ: Yes. Only the elm tree over by the greenhouse was here. The cottonwoods I placed, the plum trees, the pool of water…
RW: And you designed the pergola under the vine, and the swimming pool?
RW: Is it a pool?
DJ: Yeah, it has steps at one end.
RW: Do you ever go in?
DJ: Yeah, sure — it’s a swimming pool. They’re filling it up now, I think. If you want to swim tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be full.
RW: Thank you. How did you decide to make one part into a library, and the other for living?
DJ: The main consideration was to install works of art in the east building, which has two big rooms. This building [the west building] has one big room, next to us. That was the main reason for buying the place, and my first consideration. The library’s always been a big problem because, no matter what the situation, there are always more books. And this part was too narrow for any other use but seemed to be good for the library. When the library became too big, I bought the building in town for the art studio, and put the other part of the library into the old studio space. That happened some time later. But this library’s pretty old in terms of the place.
RW: It is your personal library.
DJ: Yeah. Who else?
RW: I wanted to know if other people come and use it, students for example.
DJ: No, no. I’m fanatic about it. Never. It’s absolutely my library.
RW: How did you develop it?
DJ: Well, no plan. It goes back, of course, to buying books long ago, as a student.
RW: We are sitting, as you said, in the European library.
DJ: Yeah, I divided the library — this part is now all of the countries of Europe before 1900. Everything after 1900 is international and therefore next door, plus Asia and Mexico.
RW: It is art and cultural history?
DJ: Well, it’s about everything. It has a great deal of literature and history, art and architecture, philosophy. But there’s not much of a plan. Some of the books are really nice, but I’m not a real collector of old books.
RW: You are a collector of art, and of what else?
DJ: Pretty much a collector of art, as far as collectors go.
RW: And furniture.
DJ: Yeah. It’s a big collection… real estate.
RW: What do you think of art critics today? Was there a time when art critics played a more important role? In the sixties when you wrote about your colleagues, this was a time when it seemed very important. I have the impression now that art writing is not that important for art.
DJ: Well, first it’s not at all important now, and actually it was not important in the sixties either. In the United States it’s always been a very meager activity. But I don’t think it’s ever been a very important activity. I don’t think there’s really that much in Europe either in terms of art criticism.
RW: I have the impression that good art criticism comes out of describing, very thoroughly, the piece of art, the material, and its dimensions…
DJ: Yeah, that’s important, but also the philosophy behind it. These things are basically not done. I don’t think many people are interested in art, and therefore they don’t want to read descriptions of it. I don’t believe they really think the art means anything, therefore they’re not too interested in the philosophy behind it or even the sociology behind it.
RW: Is there a clear relationship between philosophy and art?
DJ: Sure. All art has to be based upon a philosophical attitude. It’s not possible without that.
RW: Right now we have a lot of very well-known French philosophers being discussed. Do you think they have any influence on art?
DJ: I doubt if they’ve had any influence on art. But I don’t know. You would have to know more about the situation in France.
RW: This is a discussion we’re having in Germany and in Europe now. People are asking for more philosophical help to define the world and to gain a deeper knowledge of art. But I think it’s been absolutely lacking in criticism.
DJ: As you know, I studied philosophy, I majored in philosophy and took it as basic information — it was always very important to me. And there are certain general principles, which are not very sophisticated philosophically, that I take for granted.
RW: Is there any contemporary philosopher you feel is important, that you accept, that you try to gain a knowledge of or dialogue with?
DJ: Well, I’m interested, but I don’t know enough about the contemporary situation. I do think it’s a necessary and valuable activity and not at all obsolete. I don’t agree that it’s over with; it’ll never be over with because society changes and the knowledge of the world in general changes. Philosophy continues to deal with that. I don’t think I know enough about any of the contemporary philosophers for them to be that important to me. I like Chomsky in terms of politics, but that’s not philosophy, I guess.
RW: You also collect books on science, you said.
DJ: Well, yeah. There are all kinds of science. But again, I don’t know that much about it. I’m on the board of visitors of McDonald Observatory here and so I have more to do with astronomy than anything else. This is a very interesting place to be for astronomers and… maybe not today, but ordinarily it has very clear skies.
RW: You’re very concerned about contemporary art and you collect young artists. How do you find them?
DJ: I think I have an absolutely perfect eye. Which means a mind behind the eye.
RW: So is it by chance that you, for example, met Roni Horn?
DJ: Yeah, there’s always a little bit of chance. Well, not quite chance. I saw an exhibition of her drawings around ten years ago at Galerie Lelong in New York. And I liked the drawings and I bought a couple. Then I went there one day and by chance she was there. And so on. That’s not exactly an accident. So I got to know Roni, and then I saw another show where she had three-dimensional work. By now I’ve seen a lot of her shows. I saw the really beautiful exhibition in Winterthur of the drawings. So that’s pretty deliberate. Of course you’re not going to meet everybody that’s somewhat young or middle-aged or anything. In terms of numbers, the art situation is very big. In terms of quality, it’s very small. But it’s not so easy to meet everybody or know everything.
RW: Yes, but sometimes it’s very hard to find the quality.
DJ: It’s not so hard if you really know what you’re doing. See, this is very obvious to me. The discrepancy between high quality and the thought and the lack of it is very obvious. For example, at the Kunstverein [Cologne] two years ago there was the exhibition of Michael Scholtz. Well, I had no trouble seeing, that was really good work. I don’t even know him. I only know of him because of that exhibition. It doesn’t come from anywhere else. It’s because I can see that he’s really thinking and really trying to do something. He’s not just reworking old stuff. And then the problem is that most people, including art dealers and museum people, really don’t know what they’re looking at. And of course that’s a contradiction.
RW: How could one teach them to see again?
DJ: The first step is that they should be a little more modest about it and look more carefully. I think they tend to be very arrogant and would much rather go by gossip rather than really thinking and looking. What I’m concerned about with the art situation is that the people that I think are good — and this includes Roni, who is, as things go, pretty successful, but she and all of us don’t have enough money to do the work we want to do. And I don’t see how on earth a person who does installations, or whatever label you put on it, like Scholtz, how on earth he will ever get the money to do what he wants to do. And that’s the big problem for the artists and the art and the society in general.
RW: We have quite a developed system of helping young artists in Germany. Do you think it’s sufficient?
DJ: I don’t think it works. It doesn’t seem to get to anybody who’s any good.
RW: Why doesn’t it work?
DJ: I don’t think anybody has any judgment, or they won’t exercise the judgment. Everything is supposed to stay in a middle ground. And everyone’s afraid to make a decision and the art doesn’t work like that. There are only a handful of people who are really good and who really should be supported. The U.S. government gives a little bit of money to maybe 150 people each year. It isn’t anything — it doesn’t do anything. There’s no choice, no decision, and they give most of the money anyway to institutions. I would say that art in Germany is being starved down. It all goes to buildings like those awful buildings in Bonn and never to the artists. Awful buildings in Frankfurt too.
RW: Do you have an idea of how this system of supporting young artists who are doing quality work could be developed in a way that functions?
DJ: I think it’s a really difficult problem. The really difficult philosophical contradiction is that any good art is not art for the society. It’s not there to reflect the society. It’s not there to represent an institution. And ordinarily it’s somewhat against or totally against the society. But you still have to ask the society somehow to support it; the market can’t do it, won’t do it, because they’re always fifty years behind. So the market’s insufficient. Therefore the society has to be willing, in one form or another, to produce money for a subversive activity. And it has to have the freedom and tolerance to do that. It has to do that for radical science too, otherwise they’re not going to have it. And if they don’t have it they’re not going to have a civilization. Or maybe they don’t have the civilization already.
RW: Then you must be absolutely against the idea somebody recently told me, that art is a consensus in society — that there must be a consensus in a certain society that art is art of a certain quality.
DJ: I don’t think that can happen now. At this point the society’s too diverse and you’re talking about an international society made up of civilizations and several civilizations in transition, so there’s no way you can get a consensus. And you have an enormous population that doesn’t know anything, who could probably only agree maybe on Mickey Mouse and orange juice. So you’ll never get a consensus. And if you wait for a consensus you’ll never have any art. And you won’t even get a small consensus. As I said, the quality is the creation of the artist. It’s up to the artist to raise it as high as possible and develop what they’re interested in as much as possible. That’s the artist’s job. Someone else can come along and see that. As I claimed, I don’t have any trouble seeing that. To me it’s much more obvious than it is to other people.
RW: One of the collectors I know, a museum collector, told me “Art becomes art when it is collected.”
DJ: Well, of course, that’s a complete perversion. That’s obviously nonsense — it cannot be possible. Art is art made by the artist and developed by the artist and quality is made by the artist. There’s no way art can be determined by collecting it. You could say that milk bottles are art because everybody collects them — coke bottles, whatever. So there are a number of perversions like that. [Achille Bonito] Oliva in Italy being along that line of thinking too. Because they see nothing in the visual art — they don’t understand anything about it, they think it’s made by its social circumstances, and it’s very far from being made by its social circumstances. Scientific knowledge has a great deal more to do with art than the state of the society, which is more in transition, more accidental. To say that art is made by the collectors is a complete failure of museum judgment, and it’s an indication of what’s wrong. If art is made by the collectors, why don’t they go ahead and do it, and then, you know, go away?
RW: You fought a very special case against one of your biggest collectors, [Giuseppe] Panza di Biumo from Varese.
RW: Why did you dare to do it? This was absolutely unique in art history.
DJ: Well, I’m very concerned about my work and the original arrangements with the man were very dubious, made through the Castelli gallery. The whole situation was very dubious, and the finances, to say it again, were dubious. The main thing was that Panza went ahead and made work himself, my work, without my seeing it, which is contrary to all agreements, and contrary to all common sense. I’m very much concerned with the integrity of my work and the installation of my work, and I felt I had to fight that, which I did by writing, rather than the law.
RW: Did it have any effect on your market, on the selling of your works?
DJ: No. At that time the art business was very good and it didn’t change. The art business now is bad and my money is down along with everyone else’s, but I don’t think it… I don’t care. The work has to be dealt with honestly and I don’t care what the results are from fighting Panza.
RW: At the Chinati Foundation you are running a kind of museum yourself — for example, the Chamberlain building, as well as your own installations. What are your principles for presenting art?
DJ: I think it should be installed much more carefully and thoughtfully than it is usually done, and I think that there’s so much work that some of it should be permanent, and it should be in enough quantity that you understand what the person is thinking. It also should be in a much less pretentious and more natural circumstance than museums usually are. Museums have become very elaborate and very artificial, and with certain attitudes that I think are against the attitudes of the artists. I think no artist, living or dead, ever, would want his work in the two buildings in Bonn. They’re absolutely contrary to the art. There couldn’t be a greater contradiction. And so there has to be something better somewhere. So I’m trying to do that. The only thing I know of that’s somewhat better, very good in some ways (there’s an artist involved I don’t like so much and that’s a criticism), is the Insel Hombroich. Basically that seems to be a good effort in Europe. Panza was just a real estate dealer. It wasn’t a serious effort in installation or showing a collection. There are things in storage here but I don’t want things in storage. Everything should be in the spaces and be here for people to come and see, permanently. There’s nothing left, for example, in New York that has anything of the quality or naturalness of the art situation of thirty or forty years ago, except my building. It’s a complete island. Even as architecture it’s an island, because all the buildings around it, even though the façades are there, the insides have been turned into what look like Upper East Side apartments. It’s a perversion to show paintings by Pollock and Newman and Rothko in slick places like the Museum of Modern Art. They’re too far from the conditions that the paintings were first painted in or shown in. They’re totally different parts of the society.
RW: If you could design a museum or think about a museum in Europe, let’s say mostly state-funded, would you prefer to have a stable installation that wouldn’t change? And beside that organize special exhibitions?
DJ: Yeah, that was the original intent here, not to have exhibitions, but it happened rather naturally and mostly because I quickly made a nice space for them. It works very well to have a lot of work that doesn’t change, that’s permanent, and then each year to have either a temporary exhibition or an addition to the collection — this scheme seems to be working very well and very naturally and quietly and much more seriously than any museum — and much more cheaply.
RW: If a museum keeps collecting more and more and keeps growing, you’re either going to need more space or be able to sell pieces.
DJ: You should have more space. I’m against selling anything. I think if you buy it, you should keep it. And that’s true of big museums too. They should just have more space. And it doesn’t have to be next to the original building. It could be in another part of the city. Anywhere. The obvious solution here and in Europe is to use old buildings, old factory buildings, of which there are plenty. And they are often very nice and don’t need so much work to fix up.
RW: The presentation of your own collections here, you choose every piece and you personally placed it?
DJ: Yes, and not only just like that — a great deal of time and thought went into the process. The front room of the east building at La Mansana probably took two years. That’s why I don’t think it should be changed. It’s just too much work.
RW: Yesterday I went through a very personal museum [Judd’s Bank Building/ Architecture Studio], a mixture of centuries, of styles, of things. Do you think it will stay like this or is it an installation you will change?
DJ: It will never change. Again, it’s too much work and too much thought. It’s like making another work of art. If the individual works are short stories, those buildings are the novels and they’re just too much effort. And I’m very careful about what goes next to what and the space each thing has and the contradictions between the civilizations and lots of other considerations.
RW: Do you think that artists would be good museum directors?
DJ: For installation, yes, if they’re interested. A lot of artists are not interested. I take installation very seriously and I’m good at it. I’ve done almost every show I’ve ever had. I don’t think other people are that interested.
RW: How do you see yourself here in Marfa, in West Texas, the balance between the way you are, your survival, how you make a living, while providing work to a lot of people? And the art here — is it a “total art” project? How would you describe Marfa yourself?
DJ: In a way, it’s totally an art project, or art and architecture. Naturally, everything here is financed by the art market, by selling my work. A little bit now, happily, by architecture. So it just comes from money that I can make one way or the other. The furniture brings in some money. When there’s no money coming, we save a little by eating our own steers, but otherwise no money comes from West Texas. All the money is coming in from around the world. It’s mainly about making the art and then installing the art, both mine and other people’s. And of course it’s what I want to do. It’s what I like to do. It’s not wildly altruistic.
RW: You are writing an essay now. Are you planning to write other books?
DJ: Yeah. I don’t write anything very long — they’re all essays, and as you probably know, the new book, “Book One,” comes out soon.†
RW: Now you are writing an essay about color.
DJ: Yeah. For the Sikkens award.‡
RW: You started writing after you studied philosophy and became an art critic, but you started as a painter.
DJ: Yeah, but I went to art school while I was studying philosophy. I went to art school full-time and Columbia University in the evenings and in the summer.
RW: What kind of role does color play in your work?
DJ: Color is one of three or four major aspects of my work. I think color is probably the most important aspect of art in this century. It’s the one that’s strongest in keeping the art from turning backwards. Everybody wants to turn it backwards and I think the color is the toughest in resistance.
DJ: Well, color’s color — it’s very hard to pervert it and make it weak. It’s a very strong force in this century. And I think basically it’s something new — for thousands of years.
RW: But the old Greeks painted their sculptures.
DJ: Yeah. Other people too. It’s not that there wasn’t any color, but I think so far in this century it’s been developed more than it’s ever been, but I think it has a long way to go. Well, it’s pretty developed. But I think that in another two or three hundred years it’ll be highly developed.
RW: Would you ever go back to painting?
DJ: No, I have no ideas. A few for wall painting, maybe, but really no ideas or interest in canvas and easel painting. Not for a long time.
RW: You are going to start a little Marfa enterprise concerning textiles?
DJ: Well, yeah. Some of the names painted on the office window are projections of possibilities. This town and this county need some small businesses. Their main business is cattle and that’s just fine, but the economics of it go steadily downward, for various reasons — it’s a complicated situation. Cattle should be supported and, as a business, they should be more particular about the cattle in this area, which was once famous for the Highlands, so-called Highland Herefords, the brown and white cattle. But it’s not enough. As you see, the town is going downhill rather quickly. Basically they’re against anything changing. They’re against me — they’re against all little businesses. Somebody twenty years ago wanted a shoe factory. They didn’t want it. They have the same attitude toward the observatory that they have toward me. The observatory brings a lot of people to this area, plus it’s a major scientific effort. They need a diverse economy. It’s just normal common sense. You need two or three factories. We have the one little factory for the art, but you need two or three very different factories — not large, not polluting. And you need a really good hotel and a restaurant, also really good, so people have a reason to come. You need a source for the beef and whatever vegetables — everything that can be grown here. You need to put it together and build it back up economically. The town, as I said, only has 2000 people right now — it’s not that many. The county perhaps has 5000. And I don’t want it to grow — I think a lot of people don’t want it to grow, because it would change a great deal. But obviously what you want is a decent education, decent housing, and a decent standard of living for all of the people. And it’s an enormous county and they should be able to make that money from 5000 people. I think they’re basically very uneducated and very passive and, as I said earlier, I think there’s a small group of old Anglos who don’t want anything to happen. And it’ll just die if they succeed in that.
RW: So you interfere socially and politically?
DJ: Yeah, and I want to — I intend to. I think it’s everybody’s obligation to do that. It’s my obligation. I’m a resident here and I vote from the ranch, so I’m a resident, not of the town, but of the county. I feel it’s my job to be a citizen somewhere. And it’s my job to interfere and it’s my job to try to make it better, and the same goes for everyone else. Especially since I travel a lot and I’m involved in a lot of other places, it would be very easy for me to slide over, complain about the United States (which I do), and slide over the whole situation and be international and make more money. If I didn’t bring it back here I would probably have a lot more money. But I think that would be wrong. So want to make it clear that I’m trying to work with this community and with this county and with the United States too, which means mostly fighting them.
RW: As somebody who creates businesses, do you want to have a concentration or do you prefer to have a lot of small business working together?
DJ: I think the town should have very different businesses. There should be me, but there should be others — the area raises cattle, therefore why not make shoes? Why not kill the cattle here, sell the meat at a higher price, keep the leather, and make shoes. I mean, I don’t want to do this, but I think somebody should do it. I would like to start a produce company, we already have the legal side of it done, the Junta de los Ríos, and sell produce, sell bottled water, the local tequila called Sotol, and whatever else can be made here.
RW: Do you think such small businesses have a chance against the big concentration of economies?
DJ: I think they take a beating and everything’s against them. In the United States there are constantly less and less and it hasn’t changed with Clinton — with Bush it dropped rapidly, with the Iraqi-American war. Little businesses went down. During the last three years it’s dropped enormously. But I think it would be a much better society with more small businesses. Therefore they should fight back and they should organize politically and defend themselves. Basically I’m a small businessman — we have a few employees, but we have to fight to make and keep money for those employees. We’re pretty loyal to them; I don’t like to fire them. I think it’s very good for the environment and the economy, everything. Whatever can be produced in a particular area should be produced there, instead of shipped all the way around the world. A lot of my best examples are in Switzerland because I’ve been there a lot. I spent a summer in Molinis, near Chur, and we were just across the street from the Milchzentrum. Every morning and evening the farmers would bring in their milk, and a lot of that milk, maybe half, went out (that’s a guess) to Chur or wherever — so that brings in money. But a lot of it is made into cheese, or they come with the milk bottles and it’s used by the town. That means money that’s not spent elsewhere. And there are other products too, the wine, of course, which is famous. So they build a real economy where they don’t lose a lot of the money. One other thing about the conflict between the small businesses and the corporations is that the small businesses in their own communities can produce a better product and better food than the corporations can. People have fallen for the supermarkets and the corporations when, in fact, everything can be done better right here. The milk here in Marfa comes from San Angelo. There used to be dairies here, but the government made it too difficult. The people don’t believe in it — they don’t believe in having gardens. This was a little town full of gardens. Everybody had windmills. All of that’s gone. It’s not fashionable. They would rather buy expensive, bad food from the supermarket. And as far as food goes, the corporations really don’t produce very good food and it’s very expensive. The money’s taken away from the community. All food here is imported; you could be on an island. If it has to come in, the money goes away. And that’s very foolish — including beef, which is grown right here and nobody here eats it; they buy it in the supermarket. There are many other things that could be made in cities or small towns. Almost anything we have. A little country like Switzerland should make automobiles. Why do they bring automobiles from Germany? Doesn’t make sense. I think they make trucks, perhaps.
DJ: Do the Swiss make weapons too? I know there are a lot of them flying around.
RW: Do weapons play a role in your personal life?
DJ: Well, I have weapons, but that’s because you need them here. Is that what you’re asking? I’m very much against weapons and I’m against the United States producing them in such quantities. Basically, I consider this a military state, as some other people do. I’m very much against the weapons business — the United States and France, all countries cause a lot of trouble by selling weapons, and they turn it into a big business. I think it’s the equivalent of the slave trade of the 1800s, and it’s horrifying.
RW: Let’s talk briefly about politics.
DJ: This is politics.
RW: Yes. This is politics — it’s true. We have now a crisis in Russia, and you’re getting ready to open now a permanent installation by Ilya Kabakov. This is something like a striking coincidence.
DJ: Well, it’s a coincidence because we didn’t plan Yeltsin fighting Congress.
RW: Why did you invite Kabakov?
DJ: I didn’t actually invite him. He came down as a friend, and then he proposed this project — it was his idea. And naturally I thought it was great. But I didn’t ask him — he’s not paid for it, and I don’t like to ask people for things. I’m very much against artists not being paid for their work. We didn’t have the money to do it. We would have never been able to. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen built their piece without being paid. And to me that’s just good luck and friendliness on the part of artists, which is rare.
RW: We have now a conflict in Somalia — again U.S. troops are going to be involved in a conflict far away. As far as I remember, your show in Vienna was held during the Gulf War.
DJ: Yeah, it was horrible. I call it the Iraqi-American war because all of the United States’ fake wars have been Mexican-American, Spanish-American — these are all pure aggression. So I think Iraqi-American is just fine. I can’t remember whether the show had opened. It’s the only absolutely scheduled war in history, which is pretty perverse. I’m not sure when it started in relation to the show.
RW: But why do American presidents, even Clinton, get involved so quickly in such wars? What is the reason?
DJ: As I said, it’s a military state. Other people, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, say this — I didn’t invent it. But I came to the conclusion all by myself. The United States is very seriously a military state, verging on totalitarianism of its own kind. Clinton’s job, Bush’s job, is to ensure the military budget does not decline. When the Iraqi-American war was scheduled, when they went into Kuwait, which I think was a set-up between Bush and Saddam Hussein, the budget was to be cut by about two percent, and that disappeared in a flash. Only two percent. Now Clinton has it scheduled to go down from, I’m not sure of the figure, something like 297 billion dollars to around 270 billion over the next five years. This is a pretty small reduction, and it doesn’t change the military economy. The reason for the war against Iraq, for Somalia, one reason, was to provide an excuse to keep the military at that level. And now there will be little wars everywhere, and they have to deal with it. The question is whether they will keep it at a level where they can deal with two Iraqi wars at once or one and a half. It’s absurd. Clinton was nominated to protect the military and protect the way things are. But he was also elected by the people for economic change. The people don’t understand that much about the military, so that’s the reason he bumbles around and is a total contradiction — on the one hand he’s elected for something, on the other he’s put there to do the opposite. His job is to defend the military. And he does. It doesn’t change. And so Somalia is also good for that. It’s a little dangerous, because it’s a very vague situation. The other big reason, of course, and this pertains to Kuwait too, is that Conoco and other American oil companies bought very expensive leases from the previous Somalian government. They’ve got millions of dollars invested with the previous government. So now their leases are worthless because that government’s not there. So the Americans are there to reestablish a government and protect the right to go in and get oil.
RW: Do you think that the things going on in Russia now, this change, poses a political or military threat to the world?
DJ: If they get into a real, oldfashioned Russian civil war, I don’t know, yeah. Even if they get into a war like Yugoslavia, it’ll be on such a big scale that it would probably be a threat. It would certainly be a horrible thing.
RW: But the U.S. seems to be a very peaceful country.
DJ: But that’s because they take it to everybody else. The U.S. had an enormous war in the Civil War, not much more than a hundred years ago. 620,000 people died — soldiers. So that was very violent, the bloodiest war in history, up to that time. But most Americans have totally forgotten the Civil War. And they’re not afraid of war because they have no experience. World War II had no effect — it was just a game. The Russians are very afraid of it. Have you been to Russia? World War II is very present. They’re seriously afraid of it. Which, of course, is good.
RW: But do you have any idea what one can do, what American citizens can do to fight such ideas?
DJ: They have to organize politically. I think he’s probably not so great, but one thing [Ross] Perot would have caused is the break-up of the two political parties. The two political parties are a complete pair, controlling everything, and they need to be destroyed. You need to have more political parties. See, we’re not as free as you are in Germany — you can’t start a party here. You can’t have a little thing like you had in Hamburg, how the Green Party came up a little and then you have some people seated in Parliament. That can’t happen here. There’s no way. Clinton went through this enormous process to be nominated. You could have several million people who have no representative in Congress.
RW: So would you suggest splitting the U.S. into different countries, like Texas seceding on its own?
DJ: I think it’d be a good idea. I think the United States is too large to govern or to run. It would be better if it were a number of smaller countries, which would still be very big. Because I don’t think it works. Russia’s too big too. Happily it got smaller. But we have absolutely no say in anything here.
RW: Is there any kind of place or role you would give to the arts in such a process of educating society?
DJ: Well, the problem with supporting the arts, especially here… I mean, Germany’s a real federal situation and not nearly as large a country. But it’s absolutely dangerous to have the United States government have anything to do with art. Support has existed now for twenty or thirty years, but it’s done nothing. In fact, the situation’s worse. It goes mostly to standard institutions, it doesn’t go to artists, it doesn’t go to good artists, and there’s no result — there’s always attempts at political control. And so I don’t think anything as large as the U.S. government should be involved. The money has to come from the society and the society has to be tolerant of this expenditure. Otherwise you don’t have any art. And you don’t have a certain freedom that goes with the art. And if you don’t have the freedom, maybe you don’t have science, and so on. You can see over the course of history that things are different at certain times. In the 1700s there was a lot of fighting — before that there was the Thirty Year War in Germany and the Civil War in England. There was a lot of trouble, but evidently, with the development of science, there was a certain looseness in the society that permitted that. And it’s also, not by coincidence, a very good century for art. And I think if society doesn’t have a certain looseness and freedom you’re not going to have any continuation of scientific knowledge. And so the art helps in that way. And naturally I’m also interested in defending art for itself.
RW: In this century there were a lot of art movements that perhaps had an influence on you while you were developing your own work — De Stijl, Bauhaus, maybe this idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, a very German expression.
DJ: Yes, it’s a nice word. I like it. I knew of the Bauhaus and of De Stijl, and the Russian Constructivists of course, but other than the beginning work, which has some influence from Matisse and Mondrian and Léger, my work is basically developed from the paintings of Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko — none in a direct way, but more as a context. And the Bauhaus and the rest all seem, and this is a function of age, very remote in time to me — so very long ago and very far away. I’m much more knowledgeable and interested in them now than I was thirty or forty years ago. There was also not so much to see in New York. A little bit in the Museum of Modern Art, but not much. So my interest in all of those groups is very roundabout. The Russians were very obscure at that point. Well they existed, there were paintings in the Museum of Modern Art, but not much was known about them, there was no book — Camilla Gray’s book [The Great Experiment: Russian Art 1863-1922, 1962] came out later.
RW: While you developed your art, what kinds of discussions among the intellectuals of New York were going on?
DJ: I have no idea. The situation in New York, and I think in the whole United States, was very much split into groups. I didn’t know any of the painters in New York. I knew their work, but I made a point of not knowing them because I didn’t want to be too involved in it before I was ready to be involved in it. I only got to know Barnett Newman in 1964, not earlier. I never met Jackson Pollock and basically I never sat around talking with anyone. The literary situation in New York seemed to me rather backward. I didn’t know much about people like Hannah Arendt. I knew of her, that she wrote about social matters. My main intellectual connection was to Columbia University and American and English philosophy. I majored in philosophy, therefore that was the context and Columbia, at that point, was very empirical in its philosophy, and that suited me fine — that was a very happy arrangement. And afterwards, with a lapse of years, I studied in the art history department at Columbia. The art historians were, on the whole, rather limited. The person there that was most interesting by far, and the only one perhaps you could really call an intellectual, was Meyer Schapiro. I had a course with him, “American Painting 1940 to ’50,” in 1952, probably. So he knew Barney, Reinhardt, everyone, Pollock. And he was interested in their work and of course, he’s a very good historian in his own right — with very nice books on Romanesque art — nice-looking books. But it was very difficult to know writers or people in other fields. It’s a little bit easier in Europe.
RW: You started as a painter and you gave up painting completely. Why?
DJ: Well, the easiest answer is, I couldn’t get what I wanted with painting. The problems that it presented were not possible to solve.
RW: So you started to work on volumes, on a geometrical basis.
RW: Here in Marfa we see different kinds of works, aluminum, anodized aluminum elements in series you have in the two big buildings.
DJ: Yeah. They’re not anodized, they’re straight from the mill, which even more difficult to do. So they’re not touched, they’re just cut.
RW: This is, for sure, one of your masterpieces.
DJ: Sure. It’s a hundred pieces. I think it’s a hundred. You’re looking for things, for different aspects of how you think. But you’re not really solving problems the way a scientist would solve problems. The pieces are obviously very spatial and very much about volume and the inside and the outside and how it’s divided. It would be very easy to make another hundred, all quite different.
RW: You also use wood.
RW: Why do you insist on one material that has one structure and one color?
DJ: Well, first because I like the material and I don’t like it to be confused with other materials. I don’t like to hide the material. Work tends to become decorative, for both architecture and art, when you start combining different materials. Adolf Loos knew this, because he made it decorative. So if you start having different materials combined, metal with stone and so forth, it can be nice, but it is basically decorative. I feel they’re too far apart in qualities. It’s better to stick pretty much with one material. But I don’t always do that — the one over there is green Plexiglas and Corten steel.
RW: I wanted to ask: when did color come back?
DJ: The color was there from the beginning.
RW: It never went out of your work?
DJ: No. I was used to being a painter. Part of the things that I thought about involved color; part of the problems I couldn’t solve in the painting involved color. And it never even occurred to me not to have color. So, in a way, mine is the first three-dimensional work with color. You can find exceptions, in Arp’s or Schwitters’ reliefs, and so forth. Or you can say that Brancusi used color with the brass, which is color too — but basically it’s the first work with color. Chamberlain used color to some extent.
RW: Why did you choose Chamberlain for the building next door?
DJ: I liked his work and he was relatively neglected for a long time. Myself, Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, and Robert Morris (whose work I don’t like) — there are probably some others that you don’t even know. We were used by the Castelli Gallery as avant-garde decoration. I think I was better at surviving, but Chamberlain was very poor for a long time, decades. I thought he needed some support and that his work should be available to be seen.
RW: When we think that your work extended from sculpture, from volume in sculpture, now to even new and greater dimensions in Marfa, I wanted to come back to the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Do you find any relationship to this notion, or do you reject this expression completely for what you call your artistic work here in Marfa?
DJ: Well, I don’t think you can think of it as a “total” art work. My understanding of the definition of Gesamtkunstwerk is a theatrical situation where you have several elements: the set, the dancing, theatre — I’m not interested in mixing it all up; I’m more interested in separating the activities, which is one reason for the separate studios. One of the things that is wrong now with architecture is the casual mixing up of everything. I certainly don’t want to make the town into a total work of art. And the town isn’t going to agree to be made into a total work of art, and I don’t think they should. Basically, back to Meyer Schapiro and normal matters, I think the art should be in a normal situation. It shouldn’t be presented, as Ortega y Gasset says, in a shop window. It’s not jewelry. Even jewelry shouldn’t be presented that way. It should be mixed in with all sorts of normal activities. Art today is totally packaged, and that denies it a lot of its value and intention. In a way it’s a negation of the art because it doesn’t have any natural effect upon anyone. Everybody thinks, Oh, it’s very far from our concerns; it’s something you do on Sunday with the family, or whatever. It’s an intentional negation by a commercial, market-driven capitalist society. It’s almost done on purpose. You see it packaged everywhere. It was too natural to have a lot of little Kunstvereins in Germany and small museums. Therefore they had to make two big monstrosities in Bonn so it could be properly packaged. Same with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There’s no art around New York, it’s all in three museums — four if you count the Metropolitan.
RW: Do you think that art is still in the studios in New York?
DJ: Well there aren’t so many good artists, but there are some, yes. But there are fewer good artists in New York than there were in 1945.
RW: What is the reason for that?
DJ: I think it’s the debasement of the art situation by the ignorance of the museum people, of the critics, of the dealers, of everyone. If there’s no thought about it and everyone wants to just sell it or play with it, then the better artists are driven away.
RW: I would like to talk with you about music, because at your big parties or openings, very often there’s Joe Brady, the bagpipe major. Is this the music you like the most or would make personally?
DJ: Well, I tried to make a little music in relationship to some dances by Trisha Brown, which I’ll talk about in a minute. I really don’t know anything about music. Naturally, I went along with everyone else and I liked Bach and Mozart and other people, but classical Scottish music is very great music — on the same level as those people and it’s relatively unknown and unfortunately it’s often mixed in with tourist Scottish schmaltz, so people tend not to listen to it seriously. Basically the pieces are called pìobaireachd. I like the small tunes and everything, but what I really liked was the pìobaireachd. I think it’s great music; it has ideas in it that I like. I’m not very interested in tunes and stories and beginnings and endings and conversations anyway, and in music, certainly. And the pipe music doesn’t have that.
RW: But you live in a country where the blues was invented.
DJ: Blues are fine. There’s a lot that’s nice. A person like Lead Belly is a great musician — amazing. And a lot of the old bluegrass was great. Of course, I object to it being debased into country music. I do have records.
RW: What kind of music should I put into this film besides Joe Brady’s bagpipe music?
DJ: Well, maybe we can make a little bit. But Joe has to play some of the pìobaireachds, he knows which ones I like. That’s easy to do. It was very difficult for me to get started with music. I was helped a little bit, or a lot, by a composer in New York named Peter Zummo, who has perfectly clear ideas of his own. He put away his ideas to help me with mine, which was very nice. He was working with Trisha Brown. What I needed were sounds — I just wanted sounds. I didn’t want them to be associated — I didn’t even want them to be from instruments, I didn’t want them to be natural — I just wanted a lot of sounds. And then a great range of volume, of density, of all the possibilities. And then I wanted to be able to cut it up into parts where you hear one, then one stops and you hear the other with lots of subdivisions. There were even sketches somewhere for all of this. We tried it a bit, but Trisha Brown wasn’t very cooperative. It’s an idea. It doesn’t mean it’ll amount to anything. But I think music is something of a failure in this century compared to visual art and architecture. Something drastic should be done about it. There needs to be a really new music.
RW: People like Philip Glass don’t really interest you?
DJ: It’s too old-fashioned. Unlike visual art, most of that is just the dying end of the European tradition in music, and it’s been decades and decades now, so it’s very dying.
RW: In the show in Vienna, you rebuilt a stage set and I was told you had developed it for a kind of a ballet, a dance.
DJ: Yeah, this was based on an original request of Trisha Brown’s. She wanted a set and then she changed her mind. She wanted a set that could go up in a Platz or piazza around Europe. It could go up in the middle of the square for two days, and then be taken down. It was for dance, but it became too much to do for the money they had. The set in Vienna was made specifically for the exhibition and it’s steel welded together, so it doesn’t actually work. All the parts were originally meant to move up and down. And, of course, it should be made out of aluminum; it probably would have to have a special extruded frame. It would take quite a bit of mechanism. But it could be done. Then it could travel all over, it could go on a tractor-trailer and it could go all over the country.
RW: So are you still interested in the piece?
DJ: Oh, yeah — it’s beautiful. It’s on the poster that Rutger [Fuchs] is designing. It’s something that should be made to work. And it would, it’s just like a circus tent, it would go up in three or four hours, you would be able to bring the panels all the way to the ground, dividing the ground space into halves and fourths, and the upper spaces all which ways. The originating idea, which goes all the way back to watching Yvonne Rainer, back thirty years, was that the set would actually influence the choreography. If you don’t want to embrace the proscenium stage, then why go along with the circumstances — this was a little bit of a Gesamtkunstwerk, actually. Why go along with the circumstances where the dancers have no reaction to the set, the set has no effect upon them? With the set I made, you would suddenly have a very shallow space for people on one side, and a very deep space with people on the other side, and all sorts of different circumstances — dancers would have to deal with that. Or the players in a play.
RW: Is this the only work you did for the stage?
DJ: I did two things for Trisha Brown. One where the choreography was almost finished, so what I did was almost a backdrop and it was very quiet. But they still perform that piece. And then this one,† which was supposed to have more to do with the dancers, but in her judgment it had too much to do with the dancers. She didn’t really want to cooperate, despite what she said.
RW: That happens from time to time.
DJ: When I’m really interested in something and think about it and worry about it for a certain length of time, then I think I should do something about it. Architecture is a very permanent interest. Writing was always pretty natural to me and I like to do it if I’m pushed a little bit. Usually I need a little pushing. It comes from being critical of what is being done. There is some good choreography. There’s work by Trisha Brown that’s very new — mostly older work that’s very new and nice, and, of course, Yvonne Rainer and others.
RW: But let’s come back to you as an artist. When did you have your first exhibition as a sculptor?
DJ: At the Green Gallery in 1963.
RW: When did you come in contact with Leo Castelli?
DJ: Green Gallery closed and I believe I went to Castelli in ’66. I’m pretty sure I had the exhibition there in ’66. Probably went into the gallery in 1965.
RW: Was it through the connections and the knowledge of Castelli that you first came to Europe?
DJ: Partly, but partly not. A lot of art dealers wanted worldwide control. Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend together were certainly interested in that. Ileana really wanted to control everything in Europe for her artists. I had a show at her gallery. But about the same time (I think she was mad about it, but I didn’t even think to ask her) I had a show with [Rudolf] Zwirner in Cologne. Anyway, we never got along afterwards.
RW: But you also had a show very early with Heiner Friedrich.
DJ: Well, that’s quite a bit later if you really compare dates. Those shows were in the late sixties, 1970 maybe. I think I had already had my first show in Eindhoven at the Van Abbemuseum. I think the first one was 1970.
RW: You worked together with the Dia Art Foundation. Was it your idea to collaborate with them or did they come to you?
DJ: They definitely came to me. I had shown in Heiner Friedrich’s gallery in Cologne. I didn’t especially dislike him, but I did not especially like him either, or trust him. They came to me. I would never have gone to them. I was already here, and had been here for some time.
RW: But then they made this a Dia project.
DJ: Only Fort Russell — my situation was already pretty large. I first came to Marfa in November 1971, spent the summer, and came back down in the winter. Then I spent the summer of ’72 here. I bought the Block in ’73-’74 maybe, it was in two parts. The connection with Heiner Friedrich began in ‘78-79. So that was much later, as things go.
RW: Can you describe the way you worked together and how or why it finally broke?
DJ: I was suspicious of Heiner Friedrich and his colleague Thordis Möller when they proposed this. Of course it was handy for me to be here, because it was more or less home — I was getting divorced and my kids were to stay here, so it was convenient for something to be happening here. When they made their proposal, I said I wanted a contract, and we made a contract saying that I would be totally in charge of everything, that everything would be permanent — nothing could be taken away later. He told me at that meeting (it was in the building they had in downtown New York) that he had a grand scheme whereby he would make the projects, make the installations, make the artists famous, and then Thordis would sell a lot of the work in Europe. But Thordis was not so smart, so I thought that’ll never happen. But of course they did try it, and I imagine they’re still doing it. It was all rather shady. I was very afraid that they would try to take the art from the projects, the installations, and then possibly put it on the market. This was just a suspicion, because I never gave them a chance to do that. But I think that’s what they intended. Therefore I had the contract, and the contract said “in perpetuity,” which is forever. The contract was absolutely clear — it was drawn up by my friend John Jerome of Milbank Tweed in New York, and it saved the day. They couldn’t fight it. I think the whole thing was meant to be commercial. I think if they had gotten this place they would have sold the aluminum pieces. That’s probably what they’re now doing with Dan Flavin.
RW: When did you separate?
DJ: It was really drawn out. The contract was over by the end of ’84 and we’d already been fighting for a long time. I threatened to sue them and then Dominique de Menil, with the new board, kicked Heiner out. But they all turned out to be absolute rats as well and lied about everything. They threw Bob Whitman out of his building and were incredibly ruthless. Both groups were ruthless. When I realized they had no intention of maintaining the projects and the art works, which is in the contract, and that they might close everything down, and possibly try to sell it, I said, let’s go ahead and sue them. That was the end of ’85. That evidently scared them and they settled.
RW: How did you find the strength to be so independent?
DJ: I don’t think the work should be mistreated. I don’t think anyone’s work should be mistreated. And visual art is an activity in itself. It’s not meant to make Heiner Friedrich rich or make Panza feel good or to advance the career of some museum curator. All of these uses are against the art. And it obviously needs a strong defense. I did not intend to let them ruin my work. There was the agreement that this was to be permanent. It was meant to be taken care of. I wouldn’t let them (or anyone else, for that matter) destroy it. Otherwise you’re not going to have anything. And unfortunately, most of the other artists involved did not do that. Dan Flavin could easily have defended his small project, it was all that he was left with on Long Island, and he lost that to them. The whole enterprise was very much about property. They still have a lot of real estate. The bulk of the money went to real estate, to the Twombly paintings, to the Warhol paintings, and not to the projects.
RW: Let’s come back to your career again. When did your success start?
DJ: It hasn’t started yet. I’m waiting.
RW: You worked as an artist in New York for a long time without having money, without having success. When did this change? When did the public interest in your work begin?
DJ: In a strange way there’s not so much public interest. It’s only half a joke that there’s no success. I’ve been on the outside of almost any group or art activity that you can think of. As I said, the Castelli Gallery treated me and the other people I mentioned just as decoration. We were meant to be the radicals while the real money went to Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein for relatively conservative paintings. But it was good to have some radicals because it’s a selling point. But it wasn’t so good for our work. It’s easy to see if you look in the old magazines, there’s no critical support. In some ways I was well known and in some way still am well known, but I don’t quite know how or why. There’s absolutely no writing, hardly any — there’s a nice article by Robert Hughes in Time magazine from 1971, but there’s almost no writing that says anything (see facsimile pp.36-39).
RW: You helped describe your own position in art by writing and publishing. You’re famous now. Do you think people fear you because you remain something of a secret? Maybe they don’t understand you?
DJ: I think partly I’m a secret; partly people are a little afraid of me. They probably don’t want to think too hard about the work — it doesn’t fit into any of their rather simple categories. There are so many reviews where they clearly don’t know what to say. So it’s a funny combination of being well known but also rather invisible.
RW: But now you are well known, even in Japan.
DJ: Yes, well, Japan didn’t buy a damn thing — we had to pay for both museum shows. So that’s another kind of invisibility. When it costs us money to make the shows, it’s a lot of extra work. One museum, Shizuoka, was supposed to buy a piece; it was an agreement that wouldn’t have cost them much. And they didn’t even do that. So basically, we financed two big museum shows. I’m mad at Japan. I don’t know what it means. You can be in lots of magazine articles but there’s still a lack of money and lots of dirty tricks.
RW: How do you support all of your activities?
DJ: Well, things have dwindled considerably. Once George Bush started, the art market went downhill fast. There were a lot of sales over three years — maybe the art business went a little crazy. Since everyone else was selling a lot, I benefited, but it went sharply down. My main connection now, of course, is with the Pace Gallery.
RW: Why did you change to Pace?
DJ: Two things. I like Paula Cooper, but Paula clearly did not understand that the art market was going to pieces at the speed it was, and she was not going to do anything about it. Perhaps she didn’t have the money. And also, which is too bad, I don’t really like any of her artists except Carl Andre.
RW: But now at Pace you are together, for example, with the painter Georg Baselitz.
DJ: What can I do about some of these people? Schnabel too. All I can say is that at least there’s a majority in the Pace Gallery.
RW: Do you still think that it is important for an artist to have one main gallery?
DJ: No. My general philosophy, and this is the same intention as in my politics, would be to have a lot of galleries all over the world. But the art business is too small and too primitive and the dealers really will not pay attention to where they are and build up that kind of situation; instead they run around and sell to each other and try to create their own little international market — that defeats the local gallery. I would like to have at least two galleries in France and two in Germany and so forth. But it all winds up in the same bucket and doesn’t do any good.
RW: Many of your pieces are in European collections. The Amsterdam show at the Stedelijk [Museum], Rudi Fuchs told me, is all from public collections — eight rooms filled with your art.
DJ: Eight rooms?
RW: Eight rooms, he told me.
DJ: God, it grew.
RW: Yeah, it’s big. Can you name one museum with your work that you like?
DJ: The museum I’ve liked best is Rudi’s old museum, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. The architecture is clear and simple and it’s very flexible. For that reason you can do a lot with it. It’s not so large, but it’s large enough and I dealt with it three times with three very different shows. The first show was under Jan Leering. I don’t have a clear idea of the collection. I’ve never seen it together. They have several pieces of mine. The show in Baden-Baden in the Kunsthalle also looked good. Of course, they don’t have a collection, which is okay too, but older spaces are easier to work with. [The Kunstmuseum] St. Gallen was pretty nice to deal with. I guess they have a collection but it’s in the early stages, I believe. At least there are some places where the director or the curator is serious, and where the building is a place you can make a decent show in. Basically you can’t say that of the United States; the Whitney is horrible to have exhibitions in.
RW: Is there a private collector you think who has a particularly good collection?
DJ: A lot of people have a lot of art, but that doesn’t necessarily make good collections. If you have a hundred works of art and fifty of them are trash, that’s not very good judgment. And almost all collectors tend to collect across the board, which I think is naïve and certainly not what I do. They think it’s all one scene and that you should have a little bit of everything, and I think that’s a big mistake. There are people who have smaller collections that are nice. But the really enormous collections, unless you try to install them in a really good way, seem to me pointless. Or a collection that is in a basement somewhere is pointless.
RW: …or in the bank. What is the role of the banks in the art market? For example, Chase Manhattan Bank started an art investment fund…
DJ: Again, that’s a use of art, and I think it would be better if art were not used for all these other purposes. I don’t think Chase or anyone else, nearly, will know enough. Actually, they’re not such great bankers — they lost a lot of money. They’re not going to know enough to invest well. I assume if you buy stocks, you really should know what you’re doing, but there’s almost no one who knows. I think I can do it. You really have to know the good work, but you also have to be really patient. If I had had a little cash thirty years ago, I would have had a fabulous collection. I told my friend John Jerome, just give me a couple hundred dollars every now and then and I’ll really make an incredible collection for you, which I could’ve done. There were two sizes of Albers’ paintings — the smaller ones were five hundred, the bigger ones a thousand. Frank Stella bought a big painting by Ad Reinhardt for a thousand dollars, and so on. I almost got a great big painting by Reinhardt for $25,000, later. So I think this is easy to do, but you really have to know how, and almost nobody knows. There’s no art dealer I can think of whose judgment is really good enough. And if they don’t know, who else is there? I mean, not somebody that works for Chase Manhattan.
RW: There’s a newly created profession called “art consultant.”
DJ: I think this is adding bureaucracy to a situation, which is always bad.
RW: Yes, that’s true. Okay, Don. Thank you very much.
The following pages present an edited excerpt from an interview that took place on October 4-5, 1993 in Judd’s architecture office and library in Marfa, Texas. It was conducted in conjunction with Wyroll’s 1994 film Bauhaus, Texas, a documentary made for German television about Donald Judd and his work in Marfa. It was Judd’s last interview; he died in February 1994.