Donald Judd & Barnett Newman
November 2019–July 2020
Chinati Foundation, Marfa
There’s something slightly ironic in Donald Judd’s choice to erect a paean to permanence in renovated military structures in a desert where the wind never seems to rest. Face to the vast space of southwest Texas—skies, grasslands, elusive horizons—who could feel anything but temporal?
What I learn, touring Chinati, is that Judd’s vision of permanent installations had more to do with space than longevity. His 100 untitled works in mill aluminum (1982-1986) comprise not only one hundred cuboids—their identical outer dimensions belied by the magnificent effects of their internal variations—but also the landscape and former artillery sheds that house them. As sunlight slants into the towering rooms, support posts interact with the boxes to create a complex of geometric shadows on the concrete floors.
As if in concession to the unfinished business, the impermanence, of any art or life, there is one former barracks at Chinati devoted to temporary exhibitions. Currently up is a conversation of sorts between Judd and Barnett Newman. Judd’s untitled works in plywood (1978) were created a few years before, and formally prefigure, his works in aluminum. Mounted on the walls at equal height, the boxes—fabricated for Judd by Peter Valentine, who sought out the very best: solid boards with lush textures, unlike any plywood I’ve seen—occupy the space’s brightest corridors. One box opens at both ends, the vertical division at center evoking the confessional.
That I think of a confessional might be because I arrived with Newman’s Stations of the Cross (1968) in mind. The twelve etchings hung in the dim connecting passage of the exhibition space are not nearly so dramatic as that sequence. Yet, like Newman’s color-field paintings, here his Notes (I-XII) (1968) are characterized by vertical bands. Solid bands, lone thin lines, bands composed of dashes, circles, cross-hatching. For Newman, these bands, along with his practice, signified freedom. Judd’s sculpture—which, while drawing sightlines into “empty” landscapes and “empty” boxes, reveals that empty space is illusory—owes much to this philosophy of art as liberation.