Talk about getting into the head of an artist. Go to their home. Go to their studio. Three years ago, Donald Judd Foundation completed a $23 million restoration of the cast iron building he bought in 1968. I got to visit and really get into his head.
At the time, Judd spent a year rehabbing the industrial building in Soho, that he picked up for $68,000–not much for a building, but a clear indicator that the 40-year-old, Minimalist artist was doing well financially. By the time of his death in 1994, he had created a space here with intentional installations, the way he wanted the space kept and seen.
Little has changed since that time, other than the rust was removed from the exterior and the interior gleams. What we can now enter is the artist’s vision for space installed according to Judd’s philosophy and aesthetics.
The two black boxes above are Judd’s work. He was interested in making us aware of space–framing, capturing, measuring space, using clean lines and simple colors. He was a theoretician who studied philosophy and carried both over into his work.
Shunning the language of sculpture and architecture, he called his works “objects.” He wants to make us aware of the space itself as an object. To make space material. Are you lost yet? Being in his living space grounds these ideas out of the theoretical realm.
You can see here the four-ton Judd cube placed in the large open space of his “studio.” The cube frames a chair facing out toward the windows. The entire floor is full of contained spaces.
Judd’s studio was not for making, but rather for thinking, reading, and writing. I can imagine an idea forming from where we are standing, traveling through the cube, past the reflecting chair, and out into the world.
The studio wasn’t off limits to his family. You can make out the children’s desk and chair in the left corner where the children would come do their homework.
In that sense, the house isn’t precious. It was meant as a family home. I was delighted to learn that Judd designed furniture, created out of pine and Douglas fir. His trademark straight lines and straightforward designs transfer to the home.
Here you see the table and chairs of the dining room. Note that the top of the chairs is flush with the top of the table, creating a pleasing line and another cube-like shape. Judd himself was very tall, well over 6′, and I wondered how he could tuck himself into the straight-backed, low-to-the-ground chairs. But they look smashing.
In case you’re curious, you can buy a replica for about $2000 per chair or $10,000 for the table, all still handmade to Judd’s specifications.
For the same space, Judd designed a banquette on wheels shaped like a cube and a table doubling as a clever storage piece, with hinged doors on top opened to reveal glassware and tableware.
The second floor (of the five we visited) is the most overtly public space with Judd-designed built-ins. There are two doors flush to the wall, sized according to each child’s height. They open to closets. Nearby is another door, again flush, that opens to reveal a puppet theater.
Judd loved industrial materials and collected gadgets and restaurant equipment for the kitchen. When they lived in Soho, the area wouldn’t have been full of restaurants. They would have cooked and entertained in this space, with its huge windows connecting to street life.
He subdivided the spaces with their tall ceilings by designing lofts with ladders for access. In the bedroom here, he built a loft space for his son, Flavin. His son was named for Dan Flavin, a good friend and also the artist for the room-long, neon light piece on the right.
By 1974, Soho had become an artsy area, which for Judd meant the end of its appeal. He shunned the commercialization of art. After searching for larger spaces outside of New York, he moved his family to Marfa, Texas. There he built a compound of buildings that supported his experiments in framing space, including the vast plains and mountains around the small town.
While his marriage didn’t survive this move, his work and influence grew outside of New York. Experiencing the space he so carefully crafted, both in Marfa and now in New York, brings his sensibility profoundly alive.