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Thinking Outside Judd’s Boxes: His Legacy Still Shapes Artists

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Reflections on the maxi-influence of the Minimalist Donald Judd — master of Marfa, maker of furniture and stacker of units. He continues to inspire “a generation yearning for more physicality.”

Donald Judd at his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1970. Credit...Donald Judd Art, Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Whitechapel Gallery Archive; Richard Einzig

Influence can be a tricky topic. Sometimes artists are reluctant to cite those that have shaped their aesthetic, lest they seem unoriginal or easily swayed. But the work of Donald Judd has seeped into the creative culture more deeply than most, from Instagram hipsters to any artist who makes a sculpture with right angles.

“His influence extends far beyond those following him in a direct line,”

said Ann Temkin, the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and the lead organizer of the Judd retrospective opening to the public March 1 (and to members now).

“For much of art history, sculpture was secondary to painting, and the radicality of Judd and his colleagues in the ’60s was to change that around, and reframe the possibility for what an artist could do,” Ms. Temkin said.

Judd was a painter early in his career, but moved to the three-dimensional work — his boxes and stacked-unit installations — that would make him a famous Minimalist, a term he never embraced. He designed plywood furniture, wrote criticism and worked on dozens of architectural projects. On Spring Street in SoHo and then on a sprawling scale in Marfa, Texas — formerly private spaces, now part of the Judd Foundation — he created precisely arranged environments for living, working and displaying art.

We asked five noted makers to reflect on Judd, the person and the artist, as inspiration. The conversations have been edited and condensed.

David Adjaye

The British architect designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, and also designs furniture.

He’s definitely one of the figures to think about in terms of working at multiple scales. He’s right up there with Alvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer, Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn. Judd is an inspirational character, but his furniture was about universal, pure form, and I focus on mutations and hybridity [in works like the 2007 “Monoforms” bench].

He’s very American: For me postwar America is about the way in which the industrial world is kind of reproduced in art. Look at Judd’s material palette, it’s everything to do with the industrial age. It’s about aircraft technology and building science. But he turns them into sacred elements: plywood, aluminum, Plexiglas.

There’s the sense that he was not doing things for the market, nor for fans. You do it because

you can go back to it 30 years later and still love it. So it forces a kind of honesty in one’s work. He had this bigger idea of himself, one that proved true.

The architect David Adjaye and, below, a bench he designed from his “Monoforms” series (2007)..Credit...Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times


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