In 1975, Donald Judd asked himself the question, “Why write?” Looking back at his early essays and reviews, he provided one answer: “I wrote criticism as a mercenary and would never have written it otherwise.” He continued, “since there were no set hours and since I could work at home it was a good part-time job.” Despite his insistence on this practical concern, his early writings provide the foundation of a life-long commitment to making and defending claims about art and artists. Judd sustained a robust writing practice, long after ending his career publishing brief reviews for hire.
In his reviews and essays, Judd discussed in detail the work of more than 500 artists showing in New York in the early and mid-1960s, and provided a critical account of this significant era of art in America while addressing the social and political ramifications of art production. His essay “Specific Objects,” first published in 1965, remains central to the analysis of the new art developed in the early 1960s.
Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-1975
Published: Halifax, Nova Scotia/New York: Press of the College of Art and Design/New York University Press, 1975, 2005; Judd Foundation, 2015
Donald Judd: Complete Writings: 1975-1986
Published: Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum, 1987
Donald Judd: Architektur
Published: Münster: Westfälischer Kunstverein, 1989
Donald Judd: Écrits 1963-1990
Published: Paris: Daniel Lelong, 1991
Donald Judd Writings
Published: New York: Judd Foundation and David Zwirner Books, 2016, 2017
1950s and 1960s
An Ica Leeboard, 1958
Lee Bontecou, 1962
New York City – A World Art Center, 1962
Chamberlain: Another View, 1963
Local History, 1964
Barnett Newman, 1964
Complaints: Part I, 1969
Donald Judd’s career as an art critic began in September 1959 with the publication of four reviews for ARTnews. For the next five years, Judd would write dozens of reviews a month, while occasionally being commissioned for longer reports or essays. This selection of writings, largely from the 1960s, focuses on two primary areas of attention: the single-artist assessment and Judd’s broader assessment of the situation of contemporary art.
“Specific Objects,” first published in 1965, remains Judd’s most widely-read and often-cited essay. Regularly confused for a manifesto or statement on his own work, Judd instead contended in a 1968 interview with Lucy Lippard that the:
“Specific Objects” article, despite what people think, was not meant to be a doctrinaire, dogmatic, or definitive, or anything article…it was just really meant to report all of that stuff, and all of it was very diverse and not capable of coming under any heading but an extremely general one. And “Specific Objects,” which is my title, and I liked, isn’t meant to be about my work; it’s just meant to be about any of that kind of thing that isn’t painting or sculpture. I liked the article a lot.
Included in this selection, is an essay from a previously unpublished body of material – Judd’s essays written for class assignments while a student at Columbia University. Judd received his BS in philosophy from Columbia University, cum laude, in 1953. He began graduate work in art history at Columbia in fall 1957 and completed his coursework in fall 1961. “An Ica Leeboard,” written for a course on Ancient Mexican and Peruvian Art, addresses the “abstract” styles found in Chavín period reliefs.
Consistently arguing for the importance of engaged citizenship, Donald Judd did not view his work as an artist as separate from political action. His commitment to political action is clearly expressed in his writings, including his essays and letters to public officials, media outlets, and corporate entities. One of Judd’s earliest political writings for a public audience, “General Statement,” included in this selection, appeared in the Newspaper of Lower Manhattan Township in January of 1971.
In addition to Judd’s polemical writings from the 1970s, this selection also includes a long form essay on Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) written in 1973 at the time of artist’s first major exhibition in the United States at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Although Judd eschewed Malevich’s influence on his own work, he did acknowledge an admiration for the breadth of Malevich’s ambitions and achievements.
In “Judd Foundation,” written in 1977, Judd described the purpose of the Judd Foundation, which came into being after his death in 1994. As the essay clearly states, the primary concern of the Foundation, permanent placement for his work and the work of others, responded, at least partially, to seeing what had happened to the work of artists of previous generations. He was particularly upset to see their works dispersed by the whims of the market and museum system after their deaths. He argued in 1978 that, “Almost nowhere in the United States has there been an effort to keep together and permanently and properly install the work of the artists of the last fifty years.” Judd would formulate this idea for himself in the clear opening sentence of the essay: “The purpose of the foundation is to preserve my work and that of others and to preserve this work in spaces I consider appropriate for it.”