Donald Judd moved into 101 Spring Street, in New York’s Soho neighborhood, in 1968. The area was then the “Wild West,” as artist Trisha Brown once put it: a wasteland in which anything was possible. Judd had purchased the five-story, century-old building for sixty-eight thousand dollars and immediately set about restoring its interior, floor by floor, detail by detail—a project that would take him nearly a quarter century to complete. (Today, it is the only single-use cast-iron building remaining in Soho.) He aimed to create open, minimal spaces for working and living in which all elements existed in harmony, both in the context of the building’s architecture and with regard to his own aesthetic. On the fourth floor, for instance, he reproduced the parallel wood planes of flooring on the ceiling; the room feels like a light-filled wooden box.
Judd also intermixed nineteenth- and early twentieth-century objects—such as a cast-iron wood-burning stove, tin ceilings, an oak rolltop desk—and pieces from his substantial personal art collection, which includes sculpture, drawing, painting, furniture, and prints by John Chamberlain, Carl Andre, Lucas Samaras, Marcel Duchamp, Alvar Aalto, and others. Some of his interventions, however, are less formal: in the second-floor kitchen, a flap of wood on the wall opens to reveal a puppet theater Judd devised for his children.
The top floor houses the bedrooms. Judd’s son, Flavin, slept in a modular loft bed that doubled as a ceiling for the closet and bathroom, and his daughter, Rainer, spent her infancy in a tiny nursery that abuts the main space. Most of the floor is given over to the elder Judds’ sleeping area: their pallet bed is one of only two pieces of furniture in the large space (the other is an uncomfortable-looking, nineteenth-century Italian settee), and it presides over an enviable view of the neighborhood that is made more enviable by an eight-foot-tall red-and-blue light sculpture by Dan Flavin that spans the length of the room.
Judd once described the building, which sits at the corner of Mercer and Spring, as “a right angle of glass.” With so many windows, the space inside and the objects housed there are in constant conversation with the world outside. The second floor features a geometric fresco by David Novros. It comprises rectangles of various colors and is painted on a wall that sits perpendicular to a pair of floor-to-ceiling windows. The fresco mimics the dimensions of the windows, so that even though their glass is clear, the effect is of light refracted through a stained-glass window onto the wall.
It was at 101 Spring Street that Judd worked out his notion of “permanent installation”—the idea that the placement of a work of art is fundamental to one’s understanding of it. The Judd Foundation spent five years renovating the building and its interior spaces, preserving Judd’s original vision, and it opened to the public in 2013. This, of course, makes 101 Spring Street itself a permanent installation, one that offers new insight into the singular architecture, the objects and art on display, and the artist himself. Judd’s mode of thinking is everywhere.
This summer, the foundation is hosting a series of drawing sessions on various floors of the building. Artist Rebecca Bird attended the first of these sessions, which took place on the second floor, in the kitchen and dining area. We’re pleased to share eight of her drawings, made in pencil and watercolor. She says she found the experience meditative, allowing “time to think about the individual objects and surfaces—really an ideal way to see it.” One of the best examples may be the yellow doorstop, above, from the first-floor lobby: an overlooked detail made sublime.
Looking through the kitchen area from behind one of Judd’s wooden benches, close to the stove. Samovar, stone mortar, ceramic crocks, earthenware crocks. The hatch in the wall has a string that holds the lid open.
The prep table in the kitchen with a rough-edged slab of thick glass for a work surface.
The wood stove made me suddenly place Judd within my parent’s generation of back-to-the-landers, who built their own homes in rural places. The idea of heating this building in Soho with wood heat makes it seem palpably a long time ago. The stove was marked no. 22 on the door and was made by Union Stove Works, New York, U.S.A.
The monolithic table and chairs.
David Novros’s painting looked like it was made with mostly pure earth and mineral pigments, unmixed, and had some kind of sand or marble dust mixed with the paint, which was coarse and somewhat thickly applied, probably fresco.
Rebecca Bird is a painter and animator based in Brooklyn. Her solo exhibition at William Holman Gallery, in New York, opens September 9.
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