Spring Arts Guide: Donald Judd, Reassembled

Plus Kara Walker, Gustav Metzger, and other spring art picks

Few figures cast as cool a shadow over the history of American art as Donald Judd. Even before his 1964 manifesto “Specific Objects,” Judd had struck—through elliptical writing and the fabrication of perfectly machined boxes—a relentlessly Jacobin attitude toward “European art.” What he railed against—art with humanistic content—was as important as what he proposed: objects styled after a triumphalist American vernacular that included “most modern commercial buildings, new colonial stores, lobbies, most houses, most clothing, sheet aluminum.” If the original charms of Judd’s gnomic boxes and shelves have since become as common as air, much of that has to do with this artist’s unbeatable legacy.

Whether you know it or not, Donald Judd’s influence is everywhere—from Apple stores (check out those surgical-grade stainless-steel walls!) to art galleries designed after idealized Soho lofts. Since his death in 1994, he has achieved a ubiquity matched only by Andy Warhol. His look, if not his art, has seeped into the bedrock of the culture; it lies, in Nietzsche’s phrase, beyond good and evil. In previewing the Judd Foundation’s upcoming show at David Zwirner Gallery, beginning May 5, we spoke to Flavin Judd—the artist’s son—about the exhibition and growing up Judd in Soho.

The Judd Foundation is hard at work on a renovation of 101 Spring Street, your childhood home. When will it be open to the public? The restoration is going very well—it should be opened in 2013. From what we can tell, this is the most extensive, detailed restoration of a cast-iron building ever done in Soho. 

Your sister, Rainer Judd, spoke about the building having a particular smell associated with your father having dug up the basement, exposing raw earth. Do you have similar memories? It must have been great to grow up in Soho then. As a child, you’re going to get attached to wherever you grew up, but I think 101 Spring Street and Soho in the ’70s was actually a pretty special situation. The building felt like its own world. Don was constantly working on it, fixing it. The people and friends going in and out of the building were incredible. Outside the building, there were still textile factories and Cuban restaurants that made the whole area very lively in a way that meshed with the artists who came for dinner. It wasn’t about making a museum then, it was about making a way of living.

The show at David Zwirner is slated to present works from your father’s 1989 exhibition at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden in Germany. What was the importance of that show, and how is that relevant now? Baden-Baden was important as it showed a group of separate but related pieces. It was already more than just another museum exhibition that showed an ad hoc collection of works from different sources. I think having them together like this, now, is actually even more important than it was then; it demonstrates the level of variability but connectedness in Don’s work at a time when it is rare to see more than one piece at a time. The danger for artwork after an artist dies is that people will have a default image of what the work looks like, a kind of simplistic symbolic image reinforced by museums. Don was interested in showing work as a whole, as an experience, and these works, with their related colors and dividers, are particularly good at this. Each work is separate, independent, but still related to the group. To see them together again is going to be wonderful. 

You have a terrific, unusual, and historically significant name. Care to tell our readers about it? Dan Flavin and Don were very close—especially in the early ’60s, when they were both unknown. I was named after my father’s best friend whom I knew growing up. We were all family—the history came afterwards.

‘Donald Judd,’ May 5 to June 25, David Zwirner, 519 West 19th Street, davidzwirner.com

Spring Art Picks

‘Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century’
April 5–July 4
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then what are windows? For German, Danish, French, and Russian Romantics 200 years ago, these homely portholes were the perfect metaphor for the threshold between the man-made and the natural worlds—not to mention an age-old analog to painting. Starting with drawings by Caspar David Friedrich, the show branches out to include paintings by Carl Gustav Carus, Johan Christian Dahl, Georg Friedrich Kersting, and Adolph Menzel—all with windows as their sole motif. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, metmuseum.org

Kara Walker
April 21–June 4
A two-gallery exhibition of this fundamental American artist kicks off at Lehmann Maupin Chrystie Street with a three-channel video titled Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale; consisting of shadow-puppet narratives superimposed on Mississippi Delta scenery, it spins Gothic yarns about race, miscegenation, violence, and desire. A concurrent show of drawings is on view on 22nd Street: They’re meant to be read as a visual storyboard of the Great Migration. Folks go wild for David Hammons, but for sticking it to the man and everyone else, give me Walker any day. Lehmann Maupin Gallery, 201 Chrystie Street, lehmannmaupin, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., 530 West 22nd Street, sikkemajenkinsco.com

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