Text by Bethany Rex
A new exhibition of 33 drawings by Donald Judd (1928-94) opens tomorrow at Sprüth Magers London. Covering nearly the entire period he made three-dimensional work, the show is curated by Peter Ballantine, who since 1969 has specialised in almost all aspects of the artist’s work. Peter Ballantine discusses Judd’s radical type of delegated fabrication and his own connection to the work.
BR: To someone who might be an architect but doesn’t know a lot about Judd, can you just talk briefly about what you see as the essence of Judd from a design standpoint?
PB: It’s a huge question, but let me try to answer it as follows: architects often especially understand Judd intuitively because he is so much about space and how to create it with objects (or architecture), the higher quality the object (or architecture) the higher quality the space. Imagery is the enemy of three-dimensionality. All artworks are of course functional, most usually expressive, which involve some form of symbolic claim (this is that, this is not this, etc.). A Judd objects’ functionality is not expressive but performative (to make space). Compromise of an object, especially, for example, by damage (added detail) is the problem it is in Judd because these marks so quickly become (interpreted as) imagery, which is essentially two-dimensional.
BR: In a similar way could you explain briefly what you think Judd was referencing when he spoke of ‘manifold space’?
PB: The space Judd is concerned with is not a pre-existing volume of air but an ambitious, high quality artistic/architectural space that has to be created by the existence of an equally high quality object. Judd writes that in art/architecture, like geometry and physics, no object, no space. Compromised object, weakened space. The ways objects can be compromised is a long list.
BR: The debate surrounding this delegated fabrication that you speak of has been rekindled recently with David Hockney’s snipe at Damian Hirst (“All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally.”) What is your opinion on the use of assistants by artists?
PB: My experience is with Judd, so it’s probably best if I restrict my answer to him. Moving from making his works himself to delegating the work (including many of their practical decisions) to small traditional sheet metal or carpentry shops, was an essential part in moving what had been sculpture to a situation where the works became true objects. What objectness is is a long discussion, but there are many things objectness isn’t. It’s doubtful that any artist-made ‘object’, even if the artist were, say, a union machinist, can ever achieve being an object in the sense Judd means because of the presence of the artist’s ‘hand’, with interpretation as expression. Fine if that’s what the artist intends, not fine if part of your project is an art without illustrated external content.
BR: It’s interesting that the largest (and most formal) drawings in the show were made after the actual works the drawings document had already been completed. What do you think Judd’s aim was with these drawings?
PB: To record his work in the only non-photographic way possible, and on his own terms. Judd might not have been the only artist opposed to photography of art, especially three-dimensional art, but he was very aware of its many famous flaws – its subjective/fictional aspects (likelihood of being manipulated), its deeply anti-empirical nature (distrustworthiness as evidence). Worst of all is colour photography, which claims more equivalency to its subject. In some ways, resistance to being able to be adequately represented by photography isn’t a bad indicator of quality for three-dimensional art. On his own terms means slightly incomplete or otherwise ‘sabotaged’ picture-making, to ‘guarantee against’ conventional representation, a major issue for him, and the chief reason he abandoned painting in 1961.
BR: How do you think Judd would respond to this exhibition given his empiricism and standpoint that art should never include any arbitrary elements?
PB: One the one hand, I don’t see this exhibition as including arbitrary elements. It’s actually rather tightly focused on Judd’s drawing’s tight relationship with the three-dimensional work and how it got made (the title Working Papers is a reference to this). About the other question, about arbitrary elements in his art, arbitrary, random and ‘found’ need to be carefully compared and contrasted, but it needs to be pointed out that ‘found’ elements play (found objects, colors, materials, number systems, etc.) were an important way around composition and other forms of expression. Found objects, for example, were Judd’s entré into sculpture.
BR: You speak of “how things can go wrong when the artist is not there to defend or explain himself”. Are there any other specific examples of exhibitions you’ve come across where the display and handling are what you would see as unauthentic?
PB: An obvious example, and one your readers might have seen, is the use of what Judd called pedestals with some of the early floorpieces at the Tate’s 2004 Judd retrospective, something Judd always completely banned, because they instantly neutered whatever space a floorpiece had been able to create around itself, , turning a piece into a ‘museum piece’ (if that term is used in the same way here—implying no longer being able to function, artifact-ness, should be removed from previous circulation ), altering the height of the object above the floor, and exhibiting, in effect, two boxes (one by Judd one by a museum designer. The list goes on and on, but suffice it to say that Judd would never have allowed it.
Peter Ballantine will give a talk about the issues of Judd drawing and fabrication at the Courtauld Institute of Art’s Kenneth Clark lecture theatre on Friday, 17 February at 7pm.
Working Papers: Donald Judd Drawings, 1963 – 93, 13/01/2012 – 18/02/2012, Sprüth Magers, 7A Grafton Street, London. www.spruethmagers.com
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Donald Judd, Untitled, 1968, black marker in white paper
© Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2012.
All photos by Stephen White.