Writing posts about exhibits in museums that are currently closed: this is now a thing that keeps content fresh when there is nowhere to go, unless a walk around the block counts as a cultural event. What can I say about Judd; the ambitious MoMA retrospective of a major force in contemporary art that was open for just over two weeks before Covid-19 temporarily shuttered this and other museums? Mostly, I feel fortunate that I took advantage of an opportunity to attend a Member’s Preview on February 28th, the Friday evening before the exhibit officially opened to the public. I made the trip uptown from my day job on Wall Street after putting in a full day, and I was pretty beat, but I was so excited to see dozens of works of art by Donald Judd all in one place that I figured it would be worth it. And it was.
I’ve been fan of Judd’s minimalist sculpture since I was studying contemporary art in college, so I knew there was no way I was going to miss this exhibit — but I thought I had months to see it. It’s funny how things turn out. If I hadn’t visited MoMA that Friday, I would have likely missed it for sure. And that would have been a shame. It’s lucky also that I took as many photos as I did, because I hadn’t intended to even write about the exhibit, beyond maybe a featured piece or two in a Modern Art Monday column. Everything is different now.
Until things are back to some kind of normal, it’s a bit of a consolation that I can still bring my readers Art in the Time of Covid. For those who aren’t already familiar with the artist’s oeuvre, let me provide you with basic background on Donald Judd and enhance your enjoyment of these exhibit photos by including text from Judd’s webpage at MoMA Dot Org. Enjoy!
“I had always considered my work another activity of some kind,” remarked artist Donald Judd. “I certainly didn’t think I was making sculpture.” One of the foremost sculptors of our time, Judd refused this designation and other attempts to label his art: his revolutionary approach to form, materials, working methods, and display went beyond the set of existing terms in mid-century New York.
His work, in turn, changed the language of modern sculpture. Bringing together sculpture, painting, drawing, and rarely seen works from throughout Judd’s career, Judd is the first US retrospective in over 30 years to explore this artist’s remarkable vision.
Donald Judd (1928–1994) began his professional career working as a painter while studying art history and writing art criticism. Among a new generation of artists who sought to move past the breakthroughs of Abstract Expressionism, Judd shifted from two to three dimensions, into what he called “real space,” relinquishing a focus on the artist’s gesture. In his constructed reliefs and wooden floor pieces from this time, he established a new type of object-making that rejected illusion, narrative, and metaphorical content.
By the mid-1960s, Judd commenced his lifelong practice of using industrial materials, such as aluminum, steel, and Plexiglas, and delegating production of his work to local metal shops. With the help of these specialized fabricators, he developed a signature vocabulary of hollow, rectilinear volumes, often arranged in series. In the following years, “boxes,” “stacks,” and “progressions” continued as Judd’s principal framework to introduce different combinations of color and surface.
Judd surveys the complete evolution of the artist’s career, culminating in the last decade of his life, when Judd intensified his work with color and continued to lay new ground for what ensuing generations would come to define as sculpture.
Judd was originally scheduled to run through July 11th, 2020, and I imagine there’s a slim chance the museum could reopen in time for people to still see this exhibit. But who can even say at this juncture.
Should the Donald Judd retrospective at MoMA still be on exhibit once the museum reopens, I enthusiastically encourage you to check it out. The museum is limiting the number of guests who can enter the galleries at one time, so that will definitely enhance your enjoyment of these unique, large scale works of art. Personally, I found the experience to be very zen, and heaven knows we will all be in need of both zen and art once this crisis is over.