Roberta Smith on Donald Judd

Roberta Smith gets the front page of the NYT arts section today to gush over the Donald Judd installation at Christie’s. She’s much less worked up than Tyler Green was over the fact that the Judds aren’t going to museums:

Judd might have viewed the sale with a certain pragmatic equanimity. I worked for him briefly in the early 1970’s, mostly on his catalogue raisonnĂ©. He remarked more than once that one purpose of his smaller, portable sculptures was to make money to pay for larger projects.

The foundation Judd mandated in his will is a very large project. He might even have liked the bold gesture of one big, widely publicized get-it-over-with auction. Besides, he famously hated museums, especially American ones.

Tyler’s response to Smith is so weak he essentially concedes the point to her. I’m sure that Smith, like Tyler, in an ideal world would like to have seen the Judd Foundation raise the money in a more considered way. But I’m inclined to agree with Smith’s more sanguine view of the sale, if only because Christie’s has proved that private institutions are clearly capable of showing Judds in a much better way than any museum. Sold to private collectors, these Judds might well get purpose-built permanent homes, instead of being thrown up willy-nilly on a wall without daylight as part of an incoherent 20th Century collection somewhere.

In any case, anybody who’s been to Marfa can understand why the Judd foundation is a little on the dysfunctional side of things: Donald Judd was an egomaniac who treated his children really quite dreadfully. Since those children now run his foundation, one can hardly expect the foundation to be a beacon of art-world best practices.

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8 Responses to Roberta Smith on Donald Judd

  1. Tyler Green says:

    Felix: I wrote four posts about this, all of them before the NYT got around to the show. How exactly is that conceding a point?! Should I repost 2,100 words worth of text?

  2. Tyler Green says:

    And this line is poorly considered: “Christie’s has proved that private institutions are clearly capable of showing Judds in a much better way than any museum.”

    Really? You sure about that? What about Chinati? Or Dia? What about the Walker? All have first-rate Judd installations. I could keep going.

    Your argument boils down to this: Some museums hang Judds poorly, therefore Judd’s legacy should be confined to the walls of rich people. Well, some museums hang Monets badly too.

  3. Felix says:

    Tyler, you’ve taken the lead on the Judd sale, no doubt about that.

    And I’m not arguing that the Judds *should* be sold privately. I’m just saying that it’s maybe not as dreadful as you like to imply.

    I haven’t seen the Walker’s Judd installation. But as to your other examples: Chinati does not exhibit any Judd gallery pieces. Its two big purpose-built Judd installations are wonderful, but they’re the last purpose-built Judd installations the world will ever see. The question is how Judd’s gallery pieces are exhibited. And yes, the Christie’s installation is much, much better than the Dia installation in Beacon. It’s also better than the Judd Foundation installation in Marfa. And it’s also better than any Judd installation I have seen at MoMA or Tate Modern or any of their ilk. Museums, by their very nature, have to install art in existing galleries, and Judds generally don’t like that, especially since art galleries are designed to minimise or abolish outright the direct sunlight which Judds generally adore.

  4. Tyler Green says:

    Judd “gallery pieces?” As opposed to “installation pieces?” Is this a separation that he or anyone else has made? And so what if they’re the last Judds of their kind? What does that have to do with anything?

    I couldn’t disagree with you more on the installation of Judds at The Block in Marfa. The three stacks there, to name just three pices, are the three best stacks I’ve ver seen.

    So you’re responding specifically to the MoMA and Tate installations, not “any museum?”

    OK, fine, not as bad as I say, that’s a valid point, providing it’s backed up. But that’s not what your post says. And I still don’t understand how my point is “so weak” that I’m conceding something/anything to Roberta.

  5. Felix says:

    The distinction between gallery pieces and permanent installations is absolutely a distinction Judd made. (See Smith, Roberta, above, on “portable sculptures”.) And it’s a sensible distinction to make.

    The Block in Marfa uses clerestory windows for lighting. Compare the aluminium piece at Chinati, or the Christies installation, or even the current Judd installation at the Pulitzer in St Louis, where the lighting is direct. They’re better. Compare the concrete installation at Chinati, where there aren’t any windows at all, for that matter. The fact is that “any museum” will put the Judd in at worst a windowless white cube, and at best a white cube with clerestory windows or sawtooth roofing or the like for a bit of natural light. Would I like the Judd foundation to negotiate some deal whereby Judds are placed permanently in a sun-drenched setting? That would be great — I’m not defending the Foundation for a minute. I’m just saying things might not be quite as apocalyptically bad as you’ve been implying.

    The difference between you and Roberta is encapsulated in the blockquote above. Roberta says that Judd saw his gallery pieces as a lucrative means to a permanent end, and that he “famously hated museums”. You think that the distinction between “gallery pieces” and “installation pieces” is nonsense, that museums are by far the best places in which the Christie’s sculptures should be placed, and that a private sale which doesn’t end up with the piece in a museum is a Very Bad Thing Indeed.

    There’s one other thing to consider: one of the reasons that the Christie’s sculptures look so pristine is because they *are* pristine — straight out of the box, and (largely?) unexhibited until now. Judds are fragile things, and they can and do get damaged by museum installations. It’s entirely possible that a loving collector will look after them better than a museum would.

  6. Tyler Green says:

    As I said before, I’ve written 2,100 words about all this on MAN, plus my post about Roberta’s review yesterday. My views on all this are plenty clear.

    Meanwhile, you build a nice straw man. You continue to respond to things that I didn’t say — go read my posts. (For example, I have not written that “that museums are by far the best places in which the Christie’s sculptures should be placed” as you seem to think I have.)

    Disagreeing with someone’s arguments is a sign of respect. But you’re not disagreeing with my arguments — you’re disagreeing with arguments you’re putting in my mouth.

  7. doug c says:

    Provided these do go to private collectors, what’s wrong with that. Isn’t that going to be much closer to Judd’s Mafra ideal, that of permanent installation, rather than a museum where they might spend 6 months out in public and then two years in a warehouse?

    I was very fortunate to be able to buy a Judd before the Marfa and Minimalism frenzy and I see it everyday, through the seasons, through it’s quiet changes. I feel fortunate and as though I get to see a Judd as he wanted, not just passing through a museum gallery.

    Felix does make some excellent points about the foundation itself though and how poorly it’s run. The thing that has never made sennse to me is why they let Spring Street go unused. Marfa is remote from prospective donors and the idly curious. Spring Street though? How could you ask for a better location that could serve so many functions? If given the chance I would be having dinners and lectures all the time. Instead it’s been an unmarked building, masked by scaffolding for years without so much as an indicator of what the heck it is. Everytime I’m by it amazes me that everyone just walks by, maybe presses their noses to the grimy glass, never knowing how important the space is, what treasures lie inside. That would be ok, funny even, if there were riches to support the foundation, but given its circumastances it’s just irresponcible.

  8. Ardalan says:

    hey, fellas: i’m sorry if i conflate the two obviously distinct voices here, but if you don’t like the judd foundation displays in marfa, they’re judd’s (obviously) and i’m sure everyone will agree that they were placed with the utmost care and deliberation. also, what’s all the fuss? i love what judd accomplished (i am a juddite) and that 25 some odd great pieces will potentially disappear—is ok. there is marfa, there are several unexhibited stacks at chinati that will have a home one day, hopefully in a thusfar unfinished judd masterwork, the concrete buildings AND spring street will finally be accessible AND the Christie’s sale has raised judd-consciousness. it’s ok! the greater ‘tragedy’ is that we have to wait so long for all of judd’s writings to be published. damn, they’re good. and there’s a lot more judd at chinati than two installations… the arena, concrete buildings, the furniture, his imprint on the chamberlain building, and a staff that is true to judd’s vision. also, what’s with the ad hominem attack on judd’s fatherliness? who cares. “It’s freshman English forever and never no more literature.”

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