Chinati: Judd’s Concretes Re-open

“Society is basically not interested in art,” Donald Judd said. “Art has a purpose of its own.”

That purpose can be discovered in Marfa, Texas, where this weekend marks the annual celebration of Judd and lectures about Judds re-opened works in concrete that will be live-streamed from the Chinati website.  Marfa, a remote town, with a rundown ex-Army base and old Army barracks, specifically, is where Judd installed 100 sculptures in aluminum and 15 works in concrete. He transformed Fort Marfa into a seminal location to display his own art and building-sized installations by his friends and admired peers including Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, Carl Andre, Ingolfur Arnarsson, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, David Rabinowitch and John Wesley.

For Judd, art emulated the existence of all things by creating space and time. His large concrete objects placed in the grasslands beyond the hangars that house his 100 aluminum boxes are a perfect example of that. They create their own space and time. They are not architecture; they are not placed for any purpose or reason other than to be art. They have been exposed to the elements, the wind, the rain, and have deteriorated over time. In the past years these object have undergone extensive conservation by the Chinati Foundation, which oversees the art and will be open to the public for the first time this weekend-October 9-11.

Viewing the concrete works from a distance is not the same as wandering along a path near them, meandering in between them, looking through them at the way the sky is framed. Feeling the dry heat of the desert plain, the dust kicking up around your feet, listening to the cacophony of grasshoppers and reaching out to touch the stiff golden grass that reaches nearly thigh high, ears attuned for the sound of rattle snakes coiled up and hiding in the cool shadows cast by the objects as one experiences time and space from a new perspective.

Judd believed that art is fragile. “Some should be placed and never moved again,” he said. And so he placed work for posterity in New York in a cast-iron building on Spring Street; and in Marfa — and he preserved both locations. He wrote  his treatises and ideas on art for others to bang against. Early in his career he wrote art criticism part-time. Part-time because he lamented then how people didnt make money at criticism. Throughout his life he continued to call for money to pay art critics.

In May 2008, I attended a symposium on the Writings of Donald Judd in Marfa. Karen Stein gave an excellent lecture that she has turned into an article for about Judds views on art and architecture.

Stein was the editorial director for Phaidon Press and prior to that the senior managing editor of Architectural Record. Today, she lists herself as a design consultant first and then a writer. Likely because it is through the consulting that she makes money and the writing, like for Judd, is part-time and partial income as it is for most writers.

Last Friday, I participated online in the NAJP Summit on Arts Journalism and listened as many lamented that art writers and critics still make no money at their work. Some things havent changed since the 1960s when Judd first lamented that critics did not make money. Some do. We can count them on our fingers and toes these days, no abacus needed. In fact, Doug McLennan and Sasha Anawalt  stated during the summit that 50 percent of all staff arts journalists had lost their jobs in the past 3 years.

I will grant that many of these arts journalists were not art critics and Judd also lamented that there was incompetence and a lack of thinking in art criticism.

“Artforum, since it came to New York, has seemed like Art News in the late fifties. Theres serious high art and then theres everybody else, all equally low.”

In 1969 he called Michael Frieds “pedantic, pseudo-philosophical analysis” the equivalent of “purple poetic prose.”

Today, everything within the walls of the art world, from the educational language spouted by museums to the highly intellectualized language of the critics seems pedantic and purple.

Writing about art was not a job for Judd, it was a declaration and a manifesto. Perhaps that is the most we can expect it to be for each of us passionate about art and words.

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