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 & 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.”
A Long Discussion Not About Master-Pieces but Why There Are So Few of Them: Part I, 1983
A Long Discussion Not About Master-Pieces but Why There Are So Few of Them: Part II, 1984
Art and Architecture, 1984
Marfa, Texas, 1985
101 Spring Street, 1989
Donald Judd’s writing of the 1980s cannot be characterized by any single concern. While spanning a wide terrain, he returned to key ideas that he believed required regular attention, which include, but are not limited to: a desire to describe, clarify, and extol the contributions of the best artists of previous generations; the importance of permanent installation; the convergences and divergences of art and architecture; and the necessity of critiquing the social, political, and artistic worlds in which he engaged.
Three of Judd’s essays from this decade use the same title, “Art and Architecture” and while Judd maintained that art and architecture were distinct practices with specific concerns that were not interchangeable, he understood how the two impacted each other and were in turn impacted by the society and politics in which they were practiced. Judd reacted against the ways in which post-modern art and architecture falsified history. Instead, he strove for what was new and unknown, as he noted in the essay “Marfa, Texas”: “In contrast to the prevailing regurgitated art and architecture, I think I’m working directly towards something new in both.”
Judd continued to write in a genre which he described as a “complaint,” although not titled as such, as were two of his essays from the late 1960s and 1970s, “Complaints: Part I” and “Complaints: Part II.” Judd’s complaints of the 1980s focused on what he perceived as a decline in the quality of contemporary art, while also firmly defending artists rights and condemning the rise of large, sprawling international art exhibitions. These complaints took aim at a variety of issues, including: a general lack of education, the commodification of art, the misuse and exploitation of history, the failures of art criticism, and the escalation of bureaucracy in the arts and government. In his 1989 essay, “Ausstellungsleitungsstreit,” Judd denounced the large exhibition and art fair as symptoms of the corporatization of art. The essay, which focused on the exhibition Bilderstreit, at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne (April 8– June 28, 1989), was written for the exhibition catalogue but was not included by the organizers.
Una stanza per Panza, 1990
Josef Albers, 1991
Nie Wieder Krieg, 1991
Art and Internationalism, 1992
Fine Art and Commercial Architecture, 1992
It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp, 1993
Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular, 1993
Donald Judd’s essays of the 1990s demonstrate a continuing focus on art, architecture, design, politics and their relation to lived experience. In keeping with the interests of previous decades, Judd situated these essays within the geopolitical and cultural context that he believed greatly impacted the conditions in which artists make work.
The onset of the first Gulf War in August 1990, addressed here in “Nie Wieder Kreig” (translated from the German as “No More War”), was the foundation for much of Judd’s thinking about art during the 1990s. The galvanizing impact that the war had on his writing can be seen with great clarity in this essay, which he submitted in place of an essay on his own work for the exhibition catalogue Donald Judd-Architektur (Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Wien). In “Art and Internationalism” Judd considered the implications of the global art world and its relationship to imperialism and colonialism.
In “It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp,” written for the catalog of his 1993 furniture retrospective at Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Judd described his approach to the manufacturing and distribution of his furniture. Because the furniture is hand-made, one by one, “the best method is small distribution,” he contended, noting that, “The distribution of furniture, and of books, probably of most things, are monopolies against diversity which eliminate exceptions and complication, which have an invariable scheme for production and for costs, and of course for appearance, and, for books, subject matter.”
The importance and “insufficiently developed” status of color was a primary concern of Judd’s essays of the 1990s. His description of Josef Albers’s use of color in the eponymous essay from 1991 was developed from reflection on Albers’s work over thirty years (Judd’s first review of Albers’s work is from 1959) and years of looking at paintings by Albers in his own collection. In his last published essay “Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular,” Judd shared a view of his own achievements in visual art, with a specific focus on innovations in space and color. “Color will always be interpreted in a new way, so that I hardly think my use is final,” he wrote, “in fact I think it is a beginning.”