Monday, December 26, 2016

Donald Judd, Artist, Revealed as a Philosopher-Critic by His Children

Art & Design

Donald Judd, Artist, Revealed as a Philosopher-Critic by His Children

Rainer and Flavin Judd, Donald Judd’s children, who oversee his legacy and who have ensured that his writings reach a wider audience. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
The sculptor Donald Judd, one of the most important artists of the mid20th century, declared that he took up writing in the early 1960s purely as a “mercenary,” to earn money as a critic in his spare time. The statement was about as sincere as the oft-cited one of the novelist John Cheever — that literature is not a competitive sport. Both men might have wanted, or needed, to believe their pronouncements, but they knew they weren’t exactly true.
For Judd, who died in 1994, the overwhelming confirmation has arrived in the form of a new collection of his writings, the first to cover the entire prolific sweep of his output, much of it never before collected or published, a dense volume that one critic has described as resembling a “brick and a bible.” At more than 800 pages of essays, reviews and uncompromising observations about art, history and subjects as particular as Dallas (“very disagreeable”) and psychology (“the astrology of the mind”), the book, “Donald Judd Writings,” is aimed at adding Judd’s singularly contrarian voice not just to the list of great artist-writers but also to the canon of American literature.
Widely known, and sometimes reviled, for his critical writing about the art of the 1960s, Judd could be as damningly final in his judgments as he was rigorously clear in his descriptions of work. A piece by Anselm Kiefer, he once wrote, was “one of the worst paintings I’ve ever seen in all respects.”
The task of shepherding his many words into print was not simple. Judd — who will be the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in the next few years that will explore his role as a pioneer of Minimalism, a term he derided as woefully simplistic — did not type, for one thing. Throughout his life, he was known for the yellow legal pads always within his reach, a body of longhand writing that came, along with other manuscripts, to fill 30 boxes.
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Over a period of months, his son, Flavin, who was 25 when his father died and now oversees his legacy along with his sister, Rainer Judd, became in a sense his father’s translator, deciphering Judd’s serpentine handwriting, reading some of it for the first time. In the process, he said, he felt as if he had been able to spend time once again in the presence of Judd, a famously domineering man, though one who had a close relationship with his two children after his divorce from their mother, the dancer Julie Finch.
The sculptor Donald Judd in 1982 at La Mansana de Chinati, a.k.a. the Block, in Marfa, Tex., where he established permanent installations of his work. Credit Jamie Dearing/Courtesy Judd Foundation
“Rainer and I were the only people who could argue with him,” said Mr. Judd, now 48, in a recent interview at 101 Spring Street, the cast-iron SoHo building that Judd bought in the late 1960s and which has been preserved as a museum. “We could talk with him in a way that employees and girlfriends really couldn’t.”
Of the time spent putting the book together, he said: “It was beautiful. It’s about as close as you can get to someone again when you’re with what they wrote.”
Judd lived with his children between New York and Marfa, Tex., the small high-desert town where he established permanent installations of his work, in part to get as far away from the art establishment as possible.
His considerable reputation as a writer rested mostly on a collection that came to be called “the yellow book,” for its cover, but it contained writing only up to 1975 and became hard to find. His son, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Michèle, a psychoanalyst, and their three children, said his father never spoke about what he wanted done with the mass of unpublished notes. But Mr. Judd said he had always been on the side of publishing, as Max Brod was in ignoring his friend Franz Kafka’s request to burn his papers.
“Basically, after you die,” Mr. Judd said, “it’s not yours anymore.”
The book, which Mr. Judd edited with Caitlin Murray, archivist for the Judd Foundation, shows Judd much more fully than ever before in all his ranges — philosophical, furious, dryly funny and oracular. It also shows him as a deeply read student of history who tended to believe Western culture hadn’t yet emerged from the Middle Ages and that, more than people cared to acknowledge, violence, oppression and ignorance continued to be societal defaults.
“Even a year ago, some of that seemed paranoid and a little far-fetched,” Mr. Judd said. “But now, you know, really not at all.” (In February of 1991, during the gulf war, Judd wrote: “The circumlocutions of liberalism went so far as to become the statements of fascism. Both met.” A year earlier, about the citizens of modern societies, he observed: “… you are free, indigenous and important, but for your protection your life is completely monitored.”)
An example of Donald Judd’s longhand writing (he didn’t type) from 1959, concerning James Brooks’s 1957 work “Ainlee.” Credit Judd Foundation Archives
David Raskin, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the author of a 2010 monograph about Judd’s work, said he saw Judd, who studied philosophy at Columbia University, as an heir of American thinkers like Charles Sanders Peirce, whose essay “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” was a founding document of pragmatism. “Judd wrote to figure out what he believed in,” Mr. Raskin said, adding, “He really paved the way for later artists who wanted to get their ideas out through writing.”
Mr. Judd, an open, funny, friendly man with something of his father’s look, though leaner and without Judd’s ever-present beard, said he hoped the book, published by the Judd Foundation and David Zwirner Books, would deepen understanding about Judd beyond clichéd views of his boxy, industrially canted work as cold and reductive. “This is more than just an artist writing about his work,” he said. “It’s an artist writing about how you should think about how you live.”
Rainer Judd, a president of the Judd Foundation along with her brother, added in an interview: “I guess I feel a little bit bad that readers don’t get Don along with these writings, because the guy had such a sparkle, like a twinkle in his eye, and it so balanced out the fervor and aggression that could be in his language.” (Rainer was named for the dancer Yvonne Rainer and Flavin for the artist Dan Flavin, friends of their parents.)
Mr. Judd, who also studied philosophy and was interested in filmmaking and architecture, said that before his father’s death, he had felt that he would probably spend a good deal of his adult life working for his father in some form or fashion. “So I guess, in a weird way, what would have happened, happened in the end anyway,” he said. “Just without him around.”

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