Donald Judd is considered one of the top ten Minimalists in the art history canon. But for the people who run the Donald Judd Foundation, and oversee his SoHo home as a monument to his work and life, he was a Materialist. Judd, described himself, however, as a Single-Object artist. Touring Judd’s five-floor cast iron building–the only remaining single-occupancy cast-iron structure in all of New York City–it is easy to find truth in all three of these titles.
Purchased in 1968 for $68,000 on the corner of Mercer and Spring, Donald Judd moved into a SoHo that had nothing in common with today’s neighborhood other than the architecture itself. Judd had just completed a large exhibit at the Whitney Museum, won a Guggenheim, and was represented by Leo Castelli. He was 40 years old and it was a big year for him! SoHo was still primarily industrial in nature–textile manufacturing, metal fabrication, and a very small smattering of artists. Deluca was just down the block on the corner of Spring and Broadway, not yet with Dean, and purveyed cheese only. The original Dallek Office Furniture was also nearby at 534 Broadway between Spring and Prince Streets, and Marc remembers 101 Spring–Judd’s home–very well. Marc joined his two older brothers in the family business in the early 80′s and was always curious about the unusual empty storefront with dirty windows.
Cleanliness and tidying up was not on the top of Donald Judd’s list of things to do, but he had a clear aesthetic agenda. Over the years, Judd used this building to house his studio, sleeping quarters, a kitchen, a play space for his children, and a place to entertain. He preserved much of the character and patina of the original mid-19th century architecture. The Judd Foundation honors all of Judd’s choices and put $20 million into the building’s preservation . The public is invited to tiptoe through a pristine version of the building as of 1994, the year of Judd’s death, with much of the contents unchanged since the early 70′s. The open spaces are all the more grand because of how empty they are.
Judd began his career as an art critic and painter but switched to sculpture because, he said, “actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” Perhaps that is why we felt so fortunate to take a tour of his home recently, and to experience ‘actual space’ as curated by Judd himself.
Each floor contains a few pieces of furniture designed and built by Judd, some of his own sculptures, and pieces by contemporaries that were either commissioned or for which he bartered. Claes Oldenburg, John Chamberlain, Carl Andre and Frank Stella were just a few in his circle and their work has plenty of room to breathe in this sparsely populated and breathtaking building.
The takeaway from the 90 minute intimate tour was Judd’s strict commitment to an aesthetic and undisturbed life–one in which he was surrounded by active choices only. He stripped down to the basics–what he considered the most important visual components–in his painting and sculpture and he tried, at all costs, to extend that approach to his way of life as well.