Donald Judd Writings
It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality whole, is what is interesting. The main things are alone and are more intense, clear and powerful.
— Donald Judd, Donald Judd Writings, 2016.
The book is a bright orange brick sized at 4.2 x 1.9 x 7 inches with 1056 pages and weighing in at almost 2 pounds. The title Donald Judd Writings runs up the right edge, typeset in a deep blue Helvetica Neue Medium. Donald Judd Writings is exactly what it looks like — it’s intimidating, precise and confident. The book is broken down into three sections that create an extremely logical and conventional mode of organizing: Text, Images, Index. Each section forces you to focus on the specific task at hand and take the words or images for what they are without much distraction. Donald Judd would not be too fond of a “graphic designer” discussing his writings and works at such a surface level without being a working artist to his definition. He despised commercial art and pop art for lacking integrity and bashing it with relentless effort. Despite his feelings, I couldn’t resist.
The collection of texts are typeset in Francesco Griffo’s typeface for the Venetian Renaissance poet Piero Bembo, it’s clean, straightforward and references the days of portable publications that helped spread literacy across Europe.1 Bembo invites you into the collection of text from a diverse range of topics, from philosophy, to criticism, to politics. It also becomes the metaphorical bridge that connects form and materiality in Judd’s work. Referencing the days of hot metal typesetting and manual production, Bembo gives a nod to the materials in which Judd admired; stainless steel, galvanized iron, cold-rolled steel, anodized aluminum, acrylic sheet, and wood. These topics are presented in a range of reviews, articles, letters, reports and short statements. You begin in chronological order with an introduction to Judd’s college years studying Art History at Columbia University, whilst writing as an art critic on the side. His words and language are personal and descriptive, it feels like Judd is right there with you, helping guide you through the works of Pierre Pudget and James Brook. Judd wanted his work to feel personal and intimate and his writing very much does the same. You are brought into his world and the pieces of text become the building blocks that are ever so present in the work he creates.
As you progress through the text and the cadence changes from long format essays to notes, single sentence statements you begin to become submerged in his text and thoughts. He writes in a note from 1983, “No one understands the change. Everyone is looking for a home in the past while they live badly in the present. People at the present are not paying attention to the present.” 2 Judd was outspoken and rejected anything that may have brought some form of compromise including “wayward artists, obtuse critics, nefarious collectors, bureaucratic museums, untrustworthy foundations, and devious governments with relentless intent.” 3 These moments of rejection mixed with Judd’s intellectual integrity and defiant attitude keeps you coming back for more.
The orientation begins to change as you make your way into Images. To view the content you are literally forced to turn the book sideways in a landscape format. What’s most striking is the resemblance of this simple interaction in reading, the same way that Judd wanted viewers to engage with his work. He left viewers with different ways of interacting and viewing across a three-dimensional surface. The simple shift in viewing is refreshing and even awkward at times, but in many ways the mix of content keeps you distracted from this small, cumbersome interaction. From pre-columbian sculptures built from stone to Yayoi Kusama’s Accumulation II the images further reinforce his textual references and in many ways establish the framework of people, objects and spaces that Judd was analyzing. The conversation between his work and the work of others completes the narrative. The last image you are left with is a portrait of Judd in 1976, sitting on the ground floor of his five story cast iron force, 101 Spring Street. The image is black and white, raw, and cold, very much like the space itself. This still moment encapsulates his ethos, but it leaves you wanting more after you’ve just made your way through 1054 pages of text and images.
On March 11, 2020 we were all forced to migrate into our living spaces and ultimately try to understand what normal means as a pandemic spread throughout the globe. We were forced to see the world in a new way. I was eager to find a dense read that opened the door into another world, another methodology and ultimately another way of living. I was hoping to find one point of focus and at least one thing to control. As I read through these paper thin pages it made me realize that I got more than I was looking for. Judd was all about control, forcing a viewer into a space while having that viewer be present during a specific period in time. Yet, there was a level of un-control and acceptance as he left viewers to their own devices. He wanted to make his work permanent, while us as humans were the ones changing along with the environment we live in. It couldn’t have felt like a better time and place to sit with the works and writings of Donald Judd.
- Giampietro, Rob. “Fonts of the Resistance: Designing Redaction: Magazine: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/magazine/articles/53
- Judd, Donald, et al. Donald Judd Writings. Judd Foundation, 2017.
- Foster, Hal. “Hal Foster on the Art of Donald Judd.” Hal Foster on the Art of Donald Judd — Artforum International, 1 May 2020, www.artforum.com/print/202005/hal-foster-on-the-art-of-donald-judd-82817.