Local History: Donald Judd’s Response for “The Artist and Politics,” 1970

In June 1970, in response to the tragedy at Kent State University where four students were shot and killed by National Guardsman, as well as the growing civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, Artforum asked a number of artists to respond to the following question, “What is your position regarding the kinds of political action that should be taken by artists?” Responses from artists including Carl Andre, Jo Baer, Robert Smithson, and Donald Judd were published in the September 1970 issue of Artforum under the title “The Artist and Politics: A Symposium.”

Judd’s statement includes some of his most powerful political remarks. As Judd wrote, “…I think that everyone has to be involved in politics, in organizations that will defend their rights and obtain more, that will decide on what should happen in all public matters. If you don’t act, someone else will decide everything.” Making an important distinction, Judd continued, “There is a big difference between the politics of citizens and the politics of interest groups.”

Judd often wrote numerous drafts of essays by hand before having them typed by an assistant. Reproduced here are the first page of three different drafts in response to “The Artist and Politics: A Symposium,” two handwritten drafts and one typed draft with corrections. Also included is a letter from Philip Leider, the former editor of Artforum, asking Judd to participate in the September issue on art and political action. Leider notes that most recent political statements from the art world had been signed by groups of people or by organizations, and that his request for participation was focused instead on the individual beliefs of artists.

Consistently arguing for the importance of engaged citizenship, Judd did not view his work as an artist as separate from political action. His continued commitment to political action is clearly expressed in his writings, including his essays and letters to public officials, media outlets, and corporate entities voicing civic concerns. Letters from 1971 alone are directed to organizations as distinct as the Office of the Mayor of Chicago, the editors of Science magazine, the editors of The New York Times, and the chairman of Citizens for Artists Housing. One of his first political writings for a public audience, “General Statement,” appeared in the Newspaper of Lower Manhattan Township in January of 1971. The handwritten draft of this essay is part of the Judd Foundation Archives along with other documentation of political activity including writings, posters, images, and articles of interest.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Judd would continue his efforts as an engaged citizen through donations of work to organizations such as Art for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze and Art Against Aids. In 1992, Judd joined the Alert Citizens for Environmental Safety, which successfully forced the relocation of a nuclear waste facility in Sierra Blanca, an area not far from Marfa, Texas. Judd was also a vocal opponent of American military aggression in the Middle East and continued to remain politically active until his death in 1994.

The full text of Judd’s response for “The Artist and Politics: A Symposium” is included in Donald Judd Writings, available through Artbook | D.A.P.