Donald Judd Writings, a new collection of Donald Judd’s essays, criticism, and ephemera, was published last month by Judd Foundation and David Zwirner Books. Spanning 1958 to 1993, the book includes expansive, previously unpublished excerpts from Judd’s notes, integral to his creative process—they find him wrestling with the role of art and criticism in the culture. “Don’s writings were a parallel activity to his art, architecture, and design,” Flavin Judd, Donald’s son and the book’s coeditor, writes in an introduction. “The goal should be to find something within the writings that is useful, something that can be a tool for future use. We hope that Don’s thoughts, ideas, and complaints can be used by others to create.” Below, Flavin has selected some of his favorite excerpts from his father’s work.
Some TV sets are not so bad, like Sony or Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and some are awful, like Zenith or Johnson and Burgee.
There is not so much progress as change, but then such ideas as the independence of the artist, which can be argued as progress, and which quickly connects to the independence of the individual, are clearly in work, and have partly determined its nature. No one can deduce from their work that Newman or Pollock were working for an institution, even indirectly. Now we have more to do with the society, usually very uncomfortably, but similarly no one could believe that Oldenburg or Chamberlain were working for it or any of its institutions, certainly not the museums. Independence is implicit in the personal nature of the work.
Until recently most art, often not considered art, has been supported by social structures, but the civilization of art has now become the independence of the artists, of the individual. There is a lot of pressure to reverse this in order to grab the artist. There is also the tendency of lesser artists to not understand the necessity of independence and to sell out, which can be done crassly or gracefully, but is still servitude.
I have my version of recent art history. I’m certain that, for example, Lucas Samaras has a different version.
Intellect and emotion, thought and feeling, and form and content are the same false dichotomy.
The Americans have an excessive awareness of an identity that they don’t have.
“They” think that there is an outer layer that produces beautiful or reasonable work while underneath there is an inner layer that is the same as they are: mercenary, devious, mediocre, foolish as they.
It’s a paradox that living is so ordinary when it’s so brief and unusual.
In Houston the visual interest of the new architecture is so low as to be impalpable. The social incongruity is high. There’s lots of vacant lots. But ultimately incongruous is that the corporate skyscrapers can be seen standing high behind little white houses.
NOTES, JANUARY TO OCTOBER 1989
28 January 1989 Casa Perez
Those who know less and less dominate more and more those who resist less and less.
16 February 1989 Las Casas
The new work of this century has been destroyed several times, intentionally in Russia and in Germany. Now it’s being destroyed by the fifth column, from within, with cooperation, by the central bureaucracy, which has finally won, to which everyone agrees, even doesn’t know otherwise. There aren’t any “issues” in art because there aren’t any in the society. Orwell got the date right but he presented the form in terms of the 1930s, one group controlling another, a great opposition, an implemented plan, when now the people control themselves, submit thoughtlessly, and it’s not necessary to enforce “double-talk” or even have a word for it, because it’s nature.
8 August 1989 Eichholteren
There have been constant attempts to bury Pollock, Rothko, Newman, Still, and later artists. A current and prevailing one in Europe and an early one in New York was to try to link the artists to the imperialism of the United States Government. There are plenty of other arguments also, but this one is especially false and nasty. A new argument for burial is burial in time, the “1960s.” The nastiest of this is that somehow “Pop art, Minimalism, etc., were rigid categories that did not allow the present freedom of choice”—this is almost a quote from a few years ago in the New York Times. The opposite is so; the freedom was absolute. But the artists had real differences and real positions, which is fundamental to first-rate art. So now the artists, many artists, do not want art to be disturbed by clear positions and in confusion, in the equality of mediocrity, it is tepidly free, as those who behave themselves are free. The early 1960s were very tolerant, and in fact overlooked the differences too much, but there was little backbiting. Now there is plenty. The less the differences, the more fierce the biting. Other than the United States and the Soviet Union, ordinary people fight over common and disputed territory, not over distant positions. That can be argued in a more calm and sensible way.
14 September 1989 Las Casas
I watch the yuppie lawyers and stockbrokers who’ve figured out which way the sun rises and sets. They think they are the “cutting edge” of civilization, of the future. That justifies anything. That aura surrounds their gimmick.
NOTES, NOVEMBER TO DECEMBER 1989
26 November 1989 Las Casas
Everyone thinks there’s a higher authority, but they always have the wrong authority.
1 February 1990 Köln
Some earlier dates seem important, Erasmus was born in 1466; Dürer was born in 1471; the time seems important. The present time seems unimportant. It’s as if the most that can be said for it is the answer Harold Webb gave when someone asked him what his ranch was good for, since it was so dry. Harold said it was very important: “It holds the earth together.”
13 May 1990 La Mansana de Chinati
The Caddo, the Pawnee, the Mandan, the Kiowa, every group, every group that loses, of course loses its future, but also it loses the past, since that no longer matters. All histories change when the group fails. There is no longer greatness to arrive to; the past doesn’t seem as great and lucky as it did. English history is not what it was. American history is forgotten. History in general is not so grand. Earlier epics were made by later Greeks.
10 November 1990 La Mansana de Chinati
The government deregulated the savings and loans, allowing wild speculation, while maintaining their financial guarantee, that is, for the speculators as well as the depositors. Reagan’s government claimed it wanted a small government and free enterprise for business, while developing an enormous military, from which many of those businesses benefited. The ranchers and farmers are “conservative” and vote against Hightower while all receiving large subsidies – it’s part of their “business.” This attitude, this speculation, this kind of “free enterprise,” this “conservatism,” depends on money from the United States government. It’s a contradiction of its pious claims; it’s a fake; it’s an exploitation of the public.
NOTES, JANUARY TO AUGUST 1991
3 February 1991 Köln
At least in the beginning of this century the ideas fought for were developed and serious, if partly wrong and debased, perverted, while now even the residual slogans are superficial, are without a context, always perverted, fake, simple as slogans for the most reduced and ignorant attitudes, vestiges of earlier doctrines. It’s not necessary to know anything about the ideas or the history of slogans you’re fighting, and dying for, only the slogans. This fits the complete postmodern fascist attitude.
5 March 1991 Las Casas
The Americans could be fanatic about the True Faith or Leninism, but they are fanatic about not much at all, not about a defined cause, but about a few vague attitudes that have drifted to a pause momentarily. In the shallow expanse of vague ideas the point of fanaticism can be anywhere. When did so many obediently fight for so little? At least Genghis Khan was genuinely selfish. The Americans can’t even focus on that.
6 April 1991 Las Casas
Christianity, the family, the country are slogans for the Republicans as integration, minority, domestic services are for the Democrats. Both conceal the military state. The Republicans are not conservative in practice, but opportunistic. The Democrats are not progressive but bureaucratic. The Republicans are winning because their slogans are older and simpler and can be understood by the new generations who know less. And also God and Country fit the military state and perpetual war better than Fraternity and Equality.
NOTES, OCTOBER 1991
21 October 1991
Maybe the work of artists doesn’t add up, as does astronomy, but maybe the work helps measure the freedom necessary for science. If the canary in the mine stops singing and dies there isn’t enough air and the miners are next.
NOTES, MARCH TO DECEMBER 1992
9 August 1992 Las Casas
In Mackie, remember the rigging of elections during WWII to avoid the electorate interfering with party candidates and the centralizing of power after the war. The British lost their empire, they lost the war, but their government won the war against their own people.
NOTES, FEBRUARY TO NOVEMBER 1993
10 March 1993 Casa Morales
In 1983 I wrote that the quality of new art has been declining for fifteen years. In 1993 the quality of new art has been declining for twenty-five years. No one wonders about this. Few even see a decline—which is a cause and a result of the decline. In 1983 I wrote that artists are responsible for the state of the art. And now there are still a few good younger artists. But two years ago the art business, which includes the museums, after exploding, collapsed completely like a star of someone’s civilization. No one has asked why, even though they are still alive, such as they are. There has been no discussion in print, privately to me very little, about why the art business collapsed.
28 July 1993 Las Casas
People can’t see beyond their self-interest but their self-interest is inadequate because they can’t see beyond it.
7 August 1993 Eichholteren
The secret to the greatest power is to claim to control what is going to happen anyway: the Aztecs, the sun; the Pharaohs, the Nile; the Pimas, the rain; the Americans, their safety.
Donald Judd (1928–94) began his artistic career as a painter and transitioned to three-dimensional work in the early 1960s. Throughout his lifetime, in his writings and his work, he advocated for the importance of art and the artist’s role in society. His work has been exhibited internationally since the 1960s and is included in numerous museum collections. A major retrospective of the artist’s work will be held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.