Donald Judd and Marfa

The crisp black lines on a set of Judd-designed teacups mirror the lines and circles of a corkscrew as well as patterning on an adjacent antique Iranian bowl, items intentionally arranged on a table downstairs.
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"Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface," wrote Donald Judd in 1965 in "Specific Objects." Several years later in the early 1970s, actual space is what the artist found in Marfa, Texas, where he initiated a new interaction with the art object, proof of which is just a seven-hour car drive south of Santa Fe. Judd purchased a number of buildings in Marfa, many of which formerly functioned as a military base. Fort D.A. Russell started out as Camp Marfa, headquarters for the Big Bend Military District during the Mexican Revolution, then became a cavalry fort, housed German prisoners of war during World War II, was returned to civilian use in 1949, and was later bought by Judd who eventually purchased hundreds of acres of military property and at the time of his death, owned 40,000 acres of ranch land.

Today two organizations maintain the legacy of Judd: the Judd Foundation and The Chinati Foundation. The Judd Foundation's mission is to preserve what they call his "installed living and working spaces." They reveal their mission to Judd-appreciation and education, and these specific values are realized at his former bank-turned architecture studio, which is maintained just the way he left it. Judd's compulsion to order is impressive. This studio is a place of ideation where the artist's spatial relationships appear in the smallest of objects. The crisp black lines on a set of Judd-designed teacups mirror the lines and circles of a corkscrew as well as patterning on an adjacent antique Iranian bowl, items intentionally arranged on a table downstairs. The bank is one of the many buildings purchased by Judd and then renovated. His real estate acquisitions always included changes to the architecture, always as few as possible, and generally settling around two or three. Among the most common were doorway modifications, raising ceilings, and stripping away façades to reveal internal structure such as stucco from bricks.

Stripped and augmented by Judd's architectural adjustments, the bank structure becomes archetypal, as if creating a standard all other projects would follow. Upstairs along the right side there is room after room, all in a line and all identical, suggesting production in their repetition. It's not an assembly line but a series of chambers, perhaps once offices, that one feels continue forever. Used for different purposes, these rooms are sequential, with a doorway placed exactly in the same location in each room so that from one end of this upstairs floor, where Judd would sit at his desk, he could see to the far end of the building through six black thresholds. The white walls and black trim echo the installation downstairs of teacups, corkscrews, and antiques. This studio space is unchanging, partly due to the Judd Foundation's mission, but also because the entire building functions as an installed object. The bank itself functions like a found object, real estate that is itself an installation, and as long as the Judd Foundation remains, Judd's living and working spaces will remain a constant. Indeed, time seems to be one of Judd's mediums.

The Chinati Foundation, founded by Judd, is located on 340 acres of land, the buildings of which belonged to Fort D.A. Russell. In 1979 the Dia Art Foundation facilitated funding for the site's conversion to "an independent, non-profit, publicly funded institution" that would exhibit works by Donald Judd, John Chamberlain, and Dan Flavin. It has since expanded to show works from artists whom Judd admired. In a 1987 essay reprinted in "Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd" (2010), Judd wrote, "Somewhere, just as the platinum-iridium meter guarantees the tape measure, a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place." This measure is The Chinati Foundation.

The army base was in dilapidated ruins but due to this need of reparation, artworks installed within had the benefit of developing alongside their architecture. In Artillery Sheds, Judd describes how the artwork and architecture cross-referenced and became codependent. Two artillery sheds on the property contain one hundred aluminum boxes with identical outer dimensions. Each interior is an individual permutation of space, a studied division of its 41" x 51" x 72" exterior. The sheds have concrete floors, scored to create squares. Within each square rests a box, in one of three lengthwise columns so that standing at one end, three sequences of silver aluminum run to the far end. All of Chinati, save the Flavin's, use natural light and the shed's former garage doors (of which there are over thirty) were replaced with enormous quartered windows, determined by the dimensions and placement of the boxes, which were in turn determined by the "size and nature of the buildings." Thus these works exist within the artillery sheds not just as installations but also as permanent structures. Judd's tenacity regarding the permanent placement of three-dimensional objects was so critical that the gallery at his home in Marfa has no door for the artwork to exit. After placing each large piece, the garage door was sealed to continue the wall, leaving only the pedestrian door and holding the artwork indefinitely captive in the space. With the artillery sheds, as with most of The Chinati Foundation, Judd orchestrated what fellow artist Robert Irwin later defined as site-specific installations, where "the 'sculpture' is conceived with the site in mind; the site sets the parameters and is, in part, the reason for the sculpture."

The Foundation's 2007 mission statement quotes Judd as saying in 1987 that, "The art and architecture of the past that we know is that which remains." Housing artwork eternally in spite of its orphaned mobility is operative. "Art and architecture -- all the arts -- do not have to exist in isolation," says Judd, they can exist within a certain place and this place is Marfa, Texas.

Originally published in THE magazine.

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