Judd returns to New York with Museum of Modern Art opening

Donald Judd, Marfa, Texas, 1993 © Laura Wilson

NEW YORK — It’s been over 30 years since the last Donald Judd retrospective, and now his work is being celebrated with a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, opening Sunday, March 1. The event aims to encapsulate the career of the artist who changed Marfa.

Judd arrived in Marfa to catch a break from the New York art scene. While here, he expanded his philosophies, writings and artistic work, settling into small town life with his family and creating art and spaces that to this day draw international visitors to Marfa.

“In a way its full circle,” says Ann Temkin, five days before the exhibition opens to the public. “He left New York to find space, and now we’re able to return at least an element of that spirit to Manhattan again.” Temkin is the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA. The modern art institution has now spent over a decade bringing the Judd retrospective to life, according to Temkin.

Judd’s work at Chinati Foundation created a permanent space for his work and the work of his friends. The buildings around the works on Fort D.A. Russell are just as much a part of Judd’s vision as the concrete, milled aluminum and other works of art he made in Marfa. The spaces are even the topic of the latest, forthcoming book from Judd Foundation, highlighting the integral role that atmosphere plays in Judd’s art.

Donald Judd. Untitled. 1989. Clear anodized aluminum with amber acrylic sheet, 39 3/8 × 78 3/4 × 78 3/4″ (100 × 200 × 200 cm). Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: © Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art

“They know that it is an interesting proposition, the exhibition, because one knows you can’t recreate these kinds of spaces in Marfa at the MoMA,” said Caitlin Murray, the director of archives and programs at Judd Foundation. “Take that as a fact, how do you build the show?”

Temkin spoke to the idea of moving 70 Judd works into the MoMA, a traditional museum space, for the exhibition. “We were very conscious of the difference between the context of the big city museum and the buildings in Marfa, but I think that we did use those as an inspiration. If you see the show, you’ll see we left the gallery spaces very open, so they feel very expansive and open. It’s not a typical gallery, after gallery, after gallery room that you often feel in museums,” she explained. “I hope it’s a feeling that does convey that sense of breathing room for the works, that was so important to him and that he was able to implement in Marfa.”

The MoMA curatorial team spent years and countless hours in Marfa, spending time in the spaces at Judd Foundation and Chinati Foundation and doing extensive research in the Marfa archives.

Murray said, “There were a number of years where I spent a month out of the summer with the team. They were extremely rigorous and were paying very close attention to all the details of the spaces.”

The exhibition is a survey of Judd’s career, and the curatorial staff chose to bring five works from Judd Foundation and one from Chinati Foundation, which the local institutions agreed to loan to MoMA for the length of the retrospective.

MoMA has gone through a period of construction and expansion over the last couple years, and Temkin describes it as working on the reconception of the museum. She says the construction project and the Judd project went hand in hand, as the Judd retrospective becomes the first loan exhibition in the building since its reopening in the fall.

Donald Judd. Untitled. 1970. Purple lacquer on aluminum and cadmium red light enamel on cold‑rolled steel, 8 1/4 × 161 × 8″ (21 × 408.9 × 20.3 cm). Kunstmuseum Basel © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“They’re taking the opportunity to show who Judd was as an artist, starting in 1960 with his paintings, and really give people the opportunity to look at a wide variety of Judd’s work across many decades,” Murray says.

The exhibition is in chronological order “to demonstrate an artistic vision that developed in both methodical and utterly unpredictable ways,” according to MoMA’s exhibition catalogue.

From one gallery to the next, the exhibition travels through paintings, drawings, prints and objects by Judd in the 1960s, transitioning from two- to three-dimensions. “The 1970s gallery presents important changes to the work that in part reflect that Judd was re-centering his practice in Marfa, Texas, and working on site-specific pieces elsewhere. His experimentation extended to new levels of scale and types of structure, as well as to the introduction of plywood as a key material. The exhibition’s final gallery presents the aspect of Judd’s career least familiar to American viewers: the works from his last decade, mostly fabricated in Europe, whose chromatic and material exuberance emphatically contradicts the ‘Minimalist’ label that Judd had always rejected.”

Less well known than his dimensional artworks, Judd “was a prolific art critic and essayist, deeply committed to democratic and environmental causes, and active in the fields of architecture and design,” the catalogue reads. MoMA will provide a “reading room” outside the exhibition entrance, where visitors can sit on Judd furniture, read Judd writings and examine books about the artist’s work.

“MoMA’s presentation covers the full arc of his career, aiming to reveal its largely unexpected variety and complexity,” Temkin says. Judd Foundation is making Judd’s 101 Spring Street more available during the exhibition, and building out events around the retrospective. They will bring Temkin to Marfa this spring as part of their visiting scholars program. The “Judd” exhibition is on display from March 1 to July 11 in New York City.