Donald Judd: Architecture Hatje Cantz, 2003. 144pp. £29.95. Distributed by Art Books
International Minimal art, and Donald Judd's work in particular, remains one of the most cited references and influences for contemporary architects, but it tends to be used by them in a relatively superficial, image-orientated way. This is somewhat perverse, given that over-reliance on the image was just what minimal art was reacting against.
The place to fully experience Judd, of course, is Marfa - the house/studio/gallery complex and converted military base, where the work is seen in a Judd-controlled architectural and landscape setting (AJ 2.10.97). But Marfa is in mid-Texas, not an easy place to visit. Judd also wrote extensively, but again, getting access to his writings is relatively hard - you have to search them out, article by article. But most extraordinary, despite his appeal to architects, there has been no thorough architectural analysis of his work.
So what potential a book entitled Donald Judd: Architecture has - but what a disappointment it is.Not that it is a bad book - it is beautifully produced, well illustrated with Judd's 'architectural' sketches, photographs of Marfa, and documentary furniture shots. It is just that it is not about architecture per se, but about exhibition design and art museums.This is what art historians and curators generally think architecture is about, and as this book is a reprint of an exhibition catalogue (MAK Vienna, 1991), it is, I suppose, an unremarkable observation. It is just so frustrating for those who want something more.
Exhibition catalogues tend only to be reprinted if the exhibition, or the catalogue itself, becomes seminal.
(Hichcock and Johnson's The International Style being the classic example). Reprints have the advantage over the original in that they can assess the exhibition itself and explain its significance - a catalogue with hindsight, so to speak. Twelve years on, with the Judd/architecture relationship having developed considerably, one really wants to know what part, if any, the MAK exhibition played.
The most explicit 'result' of the exhibition was the posthumous installation of Stage Set in Vienna's Stadtpark in 1996 - a permanent record of the piece commissioned for the exhibition.Two photos are printed in this new edition, the original exhibit and the park installation, but there is no explanation or analysis. Is this a significant Judd work? What are its architectural connotations? The silence leads you to assume that the only link with architecture is that dumb one of size.Yes, it is big, but is that all? Surely there is more to Judd's work than that.
But the main lost opportunity is any acknowledgement of Judd's influence on architecture directly after (as a result of? ) this exhibition.The early 1990s was the end of the Judd gestation period; by the mid-'90s, architecture was awash with his influence, from the cool intelligence of the Swiss school to more commercially minded sub-Judd shop fittings. Not that you learn this here; the new introduction gives us no historical perspective.
But, gripes aside, this book does have something in its own right. It records the exhibits - sketches, photographs of Marfa, and pieces of furniture - dispersed between essays by Judd ('Art and Architecture'of 1983), Brigitte Huck (the curator of the exhibition) and Rudi Fuchs.
New to me were the powerful sketches that Judd used to 'record the idea'.There are over 50, mostly of the Marfa buildings, but some of large sculptures.They show messy working-out dimensions and variation options, as well as pure line expressing a single form. Annoyingly, there is no direct correlation between the sketches and the photographs, despite them covering the same buildings and place, but maybe this was more explicit in the hang of the exhibition.
The sketches are the closest we get to Judd's insistence that his art is about the process of making.
However, what appears to be important to Judd is the idea of the process of making, rather than the process itself. Hence the simplistic jump from the sketch to the final photograph, and the lack of acknowledgement of the teams of engineers, architects, contractors and craftsmen who made his work happen.
The essays by Judd, Huck and Fuchs are all strong, not ground-breaking but unusually readable. Judd concentrates on the relationship between art and architecture, which he says is based on belief and common sense, both of which he thought were in short supply. Huck's essay is an overview of Judd's continuing exploration of spatial experience, both through detail (the reworkings of the floor/wall/ceiling junctions in his New York Spring Street studio) and on the wider city scale.
Fuchs extends this theme into an attack on the art institution, discussing the conflicts of selling art and creating permanent display. All, either implicitly or explicitly, agree that it is only at Marfa that you reach the true architecture of Donald Judd.
Good on Marfa and Judd, then; not so good on architecture generally. It does make you wonder when the seminal book on Judd and architecture is going to appear. I wait with interest to see what Tate Modern's Judd retrospective (due 2004) and its accompanying catalogue will produce.
Sarah Jackson is an architect in London