American artist Donald Judd’s home
When I recently had the chance to visit the American artist Donald Judd’s home on 101 Spring Street, New York, the ticket to Judd Foundation’s visit was the first one I reserved since his work as well as writings has been a great source of inspiration. Constructed in 1870 by architect Nicholas Whyte, Judd lived and worked in this corner and dual aspect five-storey building in New York between 1968 and until his death in 1994. In Judd’s own words in 1977, the artist said:
The interrelation of the architecture of 101 Spring Street, its own and what I’ve invented, with the pieces installed there, has led to many of my newer, larger pieces, ones involving whole spaces. Several main ideas have come from thinking about the spaces and the situation of that building.
101 Spring Street was not only Judd’s home and studio, but also a place that fueled his large scale work and fed his idea of permanent installation. I was curious about what I would see, experience and gain a glimpse of during the visit as there are only a handful of press approved photographs released because no photography is allowed by the general public apart from the first floor. When Judd purchased the derelict property in 1968 for $65,000, it was in 101 Spring Street that Judd formalised his idea of a “permanent installation”. The idea of the permanent installation is a body of work that will reside in a permanent location, compared to art exhibitions that rotates and does not form a root in any particular location. The building is predominantly open plan, and as evident in its location today, formed an ideal canvas for Judd’s work as well as works from artists he admired. In 101 Spring Street, one will find works from Judd’s contemporaries such as Dan Flavin and Frank Stella.
When Judd moved into Spring Street, the building itself was in poor shape and filled with debris from the previous occupiers. Today, the entire building has undergone a careful restoration with an investment of $23m, led by the New York practice Architecture Research Office (ARO) to bring the property as well as its contents back to where it was at the time of Judd’s death in 1994. The planning for the restoration began in the early 2000s, and in 2010, on the day of Judd’s birthday on the 3rd of June, works on the restoration began with the support of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The condition of the building is outstanding that it sits under the highest designation for national significance - the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District on the National Register of Historic Place as it is the last surviving, single-use, cast-iron building in the neighbourhood. In one of Judd’s written pieces, the artist wrote:
My requirements were that the building be useful for living and working and more importantly, more definitely be a space in which to install work of mine and of others. At first I thought the building large but now I think it small; it didn’t hold much work after all. I spent a great deal of time placing the art and a great deal designing the renovation in accordance.
I cannot remember exactly when I first came across the artist Donald Judd’s work, but once I saw his work in the flesh, it stuck in my mind. The Untitled series that Judd started producing in the 1960s captivated me; the deceptively simple and plain rawness of the stainless steel constructed pieces, the elegance through the omission of the unnecessary, the limited use of colours on Plexiglas, each piece’s relationship with other elements in a room, and the calmness it presents when Judd’s pieces are present. Judd’s work represents Minimalism to its core. Often, I wondered what the artist was like, what was his working process and if he lived an ultra minimalistic life. The guided tour of 101 Spring Street was insightful and provided a glimpse into what the home on Spring Street meant to Judd’s life and also the influence to his work. Judd’s first Untitled work was recorded to be completed in 1965. This series continued to be his main body of work for thirty years, where Judd explored different material and colour combinations. Each of the pieces consists of ten evenly spaced units arranged on the wall from floor to ceiling, the geometry of each piece and the space between them are identical. The spaces between them - the void space, though does not literally exist, its presence is just as powerful as the physical space that each piece occupies. It reminds me of the concept of ma (間), the Japanese concept of space commonly used to refer to visible negative space. The concept has also been described as “an emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled”. In 101 Spring Street, Judd lived and worked in a space that lived and breathed these qualities. From the dining space on the second floor to the bedroom on the fifth floor, there is a highly curated sense of emptiness, where each item in view appears to have been selected for a particular reason, and there is a feeling where what you see is not final; almost as if to say that the work is still in progress, ongoing, and iterative.
My guide Jessica Kaire was insightful, as were the questions posed by the other visitors in the group. The Scandinavian visitors picked up on the Scandinavian influence such as furniture pieces by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto that Judd had and Judd’s visits to the region through his collection of alcohol displayed on his drinks cabinet. I wonder to what extent that the Alvar Aalto bent plywood furniture inspired Judd in his furniture making. Whilst the form is different between Aalto’s furniture and Judd’s furniture, the similarities in the design approach can be linked. The bathrooms on the second floor and the fifth floor, to me, also showed Judd’s influence by Japanese design, eg. the oke or Hinoki bath buckets by the bathtubs.
By visiting 101 Spring Street, one can experience Judd’s way of creating tension as well as the decoupling of tension through his deliberate choice in maintaining or removing particular walls, planes and openings. He was a master in controlling this tension, not only through his construction work on the dilapidated building, but also through the careful placement of art, furniture and objects. This is something hard to describe in words or even photographs were allowed. With the bare plaster walls and flood of daylight through the large windows - 47 floor-to-ceiling windows along the length of the Mercer Street facade, plus 13 windows along the length of the narrower Spring Street facade, one can get a glimpse into Judd’s home, his studio and also an understanding of why he choose this location on Spring Street to be the spot for his permanent installation.
Today, Judd Foundation oversees the maintenance and preservation of Judd’s permanently installed living and working spaces, libraries and architects in New York and Marfa. In 1973, Judd moved to Marfa, a small city in Texas that has under 3,000 in population. It was in Marfa where Judd was able to begin testing and working at an even grander scale. Continuing Judd’s idea of permanent installations, the Foundation is now managed by Donald Judd’s children who ensures Judd’s artworks are presented and experienced as how it is intended to be. Donald Judd’s daughter Rainer Judd said:
“One thing I hope people will get from the building is being able to see my dad’s work in the context he wanted, in the same space with the same light. The second thing is more subtle. It related to the way Don treated the spaces in the building, and his sense of light, texture, scale and proportion. There is a patina in almost everything, which gives a sense of warmth and history and ruggedness. When people go home from here, they might look at their own spaces differently.”
To visit Judd Foundation, please find details below. Early booking is highly recommended.
Address: 101 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012