Donald Judd at the Kunstsammlung Nordrheinwestfalen


“Tell me, what is so fucking interesting about those bloody boxes?”

“I’ve asked myself that very question on several occasions and yet whenever I see a work by Donald Judd I am intrigued by its sheer presence.”

“I'm sorry I don't get it.”

“In a way you are right, they are just bloody boxes, whether they are hanging on a wall or standing on the floor, but you see, Judd does not place his boxes on a pedestal, he does not pretend that they are more than they are. They are there; they protrude from a wall, all six or ten of them or occupy some floor space. When you walk past them you cannot help looking inside. When you notice that one of them is lined with yellow plexiglass you want to know what color the others are. From the outside they all look the same, but are they as well from the inside? Judd invites you to take a closer look and to walk past the boxes. Incidentally he never wanted anything to get in between the work and the viewer. He wanted people to be able to come as close as they wished and relied on their respect for the integrity of the work not to cause any damage.”

“Yes well, some are made of plywood, others of aluminium or stainless stell, some are galvanized others have been anolized, some are big and others small, I noticed that much, but at the end of the day, they are just boxes. Why did the man spend his entire career making boxes?”

“You’re focusing too much on the boxes.”

“Well, that’s what they are, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but what I am trying to say is that although the boxes may have been his primary form, they were a means to an end, a medium.”

“And what might that end be, if I may ask?”

“I don’t want to pin Judd down on any one objective, but my understanding is that he was exploring the perception of space and color and questions about identity and difference. Why do we perceive a stack of ten boxes or a row of six boxes as a single work? Is the space between the boxes part of the work or not?”

“Are you expecting an answer from me?”

“No, I’m just giving some examples of the kind of questions the works give rise to and which I think also preoccupied Judd when he created them.”

“Are you saying his work is about our idea of space?”

“Not our idea of space, but our experience of space. I believe that Judd’s work is firmly grounded in perception and phenomenological experience. Abstraction in his work is quite different from that of someone like Ad Reinhardt. When Judd places two boxes at a distance from each other he creates space in between. When they are aligned the space disappears, but if the distance in between gets too large, the sense of space in between disappears as well. The same goes for the boxes themselves, which create a void by enclosing space. Through the use of color they transform the surrounding space. His work brings to mind Heidegger’s notion of space as ‘making space’ (räumen).”

“Please don’t bring up Heidegger, before you know it, you’ll be telling me Donald Judd’s work unconceals the being of space.”

“Actually I was going to say that in his work Donald Judd excribes space, a term introduced by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. Excription refers to a becoming-other-than-itself, whereby writing, matter or color brings forth something that is not contained in itself. The boxes are ‘solids’, but they also create space.”

“But then what about paintings, which ‘inscribe’ space by creating the illusion of depth through the use of perspective. Don’t they also ‘excribe’ space, giving way to an experience of something that is not contained in the material, which at the end of the day is just pigment or whatever?”

“Yes and in that sense the difference Judd sought to construe between his work and traditional painting is misconceived. It is true that perspective creates the illusion of depth, whereas in Judd’s work there is actual depth, but both create a sense of space in the observer.”

“I must confess that I enjoyed the final rooms of the exhibition. Still to me those boxes and stacks seem little more than decoration, I mean, have you ever been to Calvin Klein’s flagship store on Madison Avenue or to The Hempel in London?”

“I know what you’re getting at, minimalism as lifestyle. The fact that Judd also designed furniture may not speak in his favor. I do think there is a difference between his furniture designs and his art. In his furniture he explored his ideas in relation to a given object’s function, a bed or a chair, in the works he created as art he didn’t have to worry about function.”

“Are you going to that exhibition of contemporary African art as well?”

“Yes I am. What about you?”

“That’s what I came to Düsseldorf for actually. Mind if I join you?”

"Sure, I'm enjoying our conversation."

Kunstsammlung Nordrheinwestfalen, Düsseldorf until 5 September 2004

Category: Art | Exhibition