photographs and article by June Mattingly
Donald Judd (1928-1994)
Donald Judd’s home and studio before he moved to Texas, now the Judd Foundation is on Spring Street in New York’s SoHo and open to visitors by appointment. Inside are not only his minimalistic sculptures and furniture, but also permanent installations by his contemporaries he knew and admired including Dan Flavin, Carl Andre and Frank Stella. His beliefs in placing art in a more permanent way than possible in a gallery or museum and in bringing art, architecture and the landscape together to become a coherent whole were finally realized by Judd in Marfa.
Judd moved to Marfa in 1971 and began transforming an abandoned 350 acre military fort into his base of operation and private residence for the last two decades of his life. Until then this West Texas cattle town was known for James Dean’s last film “Giant” (1956) with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. This non-profit contemporary art museum and gallery complex was named for the Chinati Mountain. Marfa has turned into an artist colony, among them residing here are Jeff Elrod, David Hirschi and Leslie Wilkes.
Transport oneself to Marfa if only to experience one of the most truly glorious art-filled spaces in the world. “Untitled” (1982-86) consists of 100 shimmering aluminum boxes each measuring 41 x 51 x 72” and set at 173” intervals. Placed in three rows in a straight line they run the length of two remodeled light-filled artillery sheds. Their panels reflect a huge spectrum of possibilities and reflect their surroundings such as grass, sky, trees, and the rising and setting sun.
Like other minimalists, Judd believed art should unequivocally stand on its own, to become an instinctual, physical experience. He reduced his art in favor of a unified image composed of geometric forms arranged according to a grid. Each unit of his 60 concrete boxes form two to six freestanding giant rectangles measuring about a half mile in length. His largest and most ambitious outdoor work resides in a wide field with local fauna and tarantulas, art pieces themselves.
Typical of the designs in his home were the cabinets in his kitchen, the tables and chairs and the frames for the windows.
Every fall the Judd Foundation hosts an open house at Chinati with music, talks, special exhibitions and private and public festivities. Hundreds of visitors travel here from all over the world for the event. Fly via Southwest Airlines to El Paso; in the next 200 miles (on HWY 90) is spectacular scenery and the highest mountain in Texas, the Guadalupe Peak (8,749 feet). A scenic wonder is hiking and birding in Big Bend National Park. Don’t miss the Marfa Lights, the Nature Conservancy’s Reserve, the McDonald Observatory in Alpine and Marfa’s main drag.
The celebration starts off on Friday evening with a by invitation only cocktail party outside followed by a seated dinner inside in the equestrian arena. When Judd was alive entertainment was provided by Scottish bagpipe players who along with Judd wore the traditional Great Highland dress for the occasion. Please see the pictures I took at the second opening event at Chinati when I also photographed Judd being interviewed by Art in America magazine.
At the time of Judd’s retrospective at the Dallas Museum of Art I owned a stunning Donald Judd wall sculpture. In honor of Judd I gave a party in my home that Judd attended along with Paula Cooper who I knew from before; I bought my Judd from her gallery.
Judd attended the Art Students League of New York and the graduate program at Columbia University under the consummate art critic Meyer Shapiro. When writing (1959-1965) for Artforum he influenced the direction of art criticism and avant-garde art intellectually as well.
Pictured are Claes Oldenburg’s/Coosje van Bruggen’s Monument to the Last Horse, Judd’s 100 Untitled Works in Mil Aluminum and his15 Untitled Works in Concrete along with Judd being interviewed by Art in America and an opening party with Judd wearing kilts. All photos courtesy of the author.
Major retrospectives of his work were organized by the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona and the Tate Modern in London. Collections owning his work include the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in DC, the Whitney and Guggenheim Museums in New York and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.