New Acquisition: Donald Judd, Prototype Desk

April 21, 2011

This weekend LACMA added eight new works to its collection through its annual Collectors Committee events. All week on Unframed our curators will be highlighting the objects just acquired.  

Donald Judd, Prototype Desk, 1978, gift of the 2011 Collectors Committee

Donald Judd, one of the most significant artists of the latter half of the twentieth century, is often acknowledged as an originator of Minimalism, a style developed in the 1960s and characterized by the extreme reduction of form to simple repeated geometries, free from any historical references or narrative. Judd’s principal preoccupation was form in space, which, in “Specific Objects”, an eponymous essay of 1965, he called work that was “neither painting nor sculpture” but “challenges both.” As early as the mid-1960s, Judd demonstrated his belief that the space surrounding his work was equally essential to the viewer’s experience, carefully installing his own art (and that of others) in his home in New York. By the mid-1970s Judd included the design of architecture, furniture, and ceramics in his artistic practice.

This conviction led to a project of enormous ambition—the adaptive reuse of historic buildings (former industrial and army facilities as well as commercial and residential structures) in Marfa, a small town in the West Texas desert. There, from the 1970s until his death in 1994, Judd converted largely abandoned and unused buildings into living spaces, studios, and museum galleries for his own art as well as the art of several of his colleagues. His first major project was to convert a city block with two airplane hangers into a studio and residence for himself and his two young children. Unable to find furniture locally that suited his architecture, he decided to make his own, beginning in 1978 with beds and a pair of desks for his daughter and son.

The design of the prototype desk (this example made for his son, and later put into limited production) relates strongly to the formal logic of Judd’s box sculptures. Simple butt-joined pine boards are deliberately arranged and divided in regular measures by planes in the form of shelves, legs, and a desktop. The desk, with its repetition of planes and divisions, delineates space in a complex rhythm of surfaces and edges. Its open shelves (instead of drawers) a reflection of Judd’s commitment to visual transparency, the desk is one of the very few pieces made by the artist himself.

Two years earlier, Judd had made a series of fifteen plywood boxes of equal exterior dimension, each varied in open, closed, and divided interior volumes. (These boxes are now a centerpiece of the Dia Art Foundation collection.) One example from the series features a lifted top plane echoing the floating double planes of the desktop. The plywood boxes became the prototypes for Judd’s monumental series of 100 milled-aluminum boxes in the two former artillery sheds at Marfa he modified to house them—a virtual symphony of Euclidian geometry and an ideal symbiosis between art and architecture, space and light. As one ensemble, the building and the sculptures comprise the masterpiece of Judd’s oeuvre.

The prototype desk became a starting point for a whole series of indoor and outdoor furniture. Judd’s ideas about the integral relationship between art and architecture extend the principals of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total design unity) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Arts and Crafts movement. Judd  admired the movement and shared its goal to integrate art and life. With the acquisition of this rare desk, LACMA can now display a work seminal to Judd’s critically influential philosophy about the nature of art and design.

Wendy Kaplan, Curator and Department Head, Decorative Arts and Design


Limited Editions and More with Erin Wright

November 24, 2008

One of the benefits of working at LACMA is having the opportunity to meet and collaborate with creative, interesting people who make the museum hum, like our Director of Special Projects, Erin Wright. Not only does Erin have one of the coolest jobs around—overseeing and shepherding artist projects through—but she’s also living the dream (or at least my dream; see her last answer) outside of the museum. Here, she lets us in on a few limited editions that just became available, and explains how she found herself to be the only American amongst a group of Germans in Texas.

What was your path to LACMA?

I studied art history at Simmons College and after graduation managed a photography gallery, Robert Klein, in Boston. I then went on to Sotheby’s working in client services and marketing. My next endeavor was an internship at the Chinati Foundation, a museum founded by Donald Judd, which then led me to the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Lannan supported a number of Dia Art Foundation projects and was how I first began working with Michael [Govan]. After that I moved to Los Angeles and went to work for Gagosian Gallery as an editor on the Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings. I joined LACMA in the fall of 2006.

That’s such a rich background—is there one experience that stands out above all the others?

My internship at the Chinati Foundation was one of my most interesting experiences. I lived and worked at Chinati for three months with none of the usual distractions—no television and no cell phone—and was, for a while, the only American among a group of German artists and interns living in Marfa, Texas.

Sounds intense. Was there an artist whose work you ended up particularly excited about having spent so much uninterrupted time with it?

I had always been a fan of Dan Flavin’s work but while I was at Chinati there was a special exhibition of his drawings and I was astounded at how extraordinary they were. I was able to spend a lot of time with the drawings and they gave me new insight into his work which was thrilling.

What are some of the projects you’re working on now?

I just finished working on a project with the Jorge Pardo Studio. When Jorge was creating his design for our art of the ancient Americas galleries, he found a pre-Columbian object that he thought would be fantastic to use as a model for a limited edition piece. We took a 3-D scan and Jorge re-envisioned it as a lamp.

Is the lamp available to the public?

Yes, it’s available though the website and is currently on view in the LACMA store where it can also be purchased. It’s in an edition of twenty and will sell for $18,000. I’ve just finished another edition that is a little more affordable—a print with the artist collective Machine Project made in conjunction with the Machine Project Guide to LACMA event we had a few weeks ago.

Tell us about the print.

It takes the form of a sestina—a highly structured poem form popular with the European troubadours of the twelfth century—and features list of ideas that never made it to our event because they were too dangerous, foolish, over-ambitious, nonsensical, or just unsuitable, such as child docents and escalator skiing. It’s printed by Aardvark Editions and retails for $95. It is an edition of 250.

Aside from these projects, what are you most excited by at LACMA right now?

Hard Targets!

I know your husband, Joe Sola, who actually just wrote a blog post for us about Matthew Barney’s Cremaster, has work in the show (which, I want to note, the curator selected well before ever knowing of your connection).

Yes, there are two pieces. One is an older work called St. Henry Composition and the other was made for the show entitled In the Woods.

I was mesmerized by St. Henry Composition, in which he repeatedly subjects himself to getting tackled by football players. Is this sort of physicality typical of his work?

It is, there’s a video piece he made in 2006 where he gets run over by a van!

When he’s not getting tackled or run over, and you’re not working on limited editions, what are you two up to?

At the moment, desperately trying to complete the Escher GuneWardena house we’ve built in Mount Washington.

Is there someone else at LACMA you want to know more about (or something for that matter)? Just let us know and they might appear on Unframed soon.

Brooke Fruchtman


Art Catalogue Tells All

October 28, 2008
". . . full of gossip and history . . . "

Art and Technology

As noted in Allison’s post of yesterday, the provenance of James Turrell’s Afrum (White) can be traced back to the Art and Technology exhibition of 1971. We’ve recently made it easy to learn about this fabled show by putting its catalogue online. Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound that exciting, but trust me. It’s a different kind of catalogue—candid, original, and often very funny. “I loved the catalogue,” the sculptor Claes Oldenburg once said. “It’s full of gossip and history and time passing and attitudes.”

It was written by then-LACMA curators Maurice Tuchman and Jane Livingston and entitled A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1967–1971. It tells the story of how LACMA, then around two years old, set out to place artists within high-tech corporations to see what would happen. Two exhibitions resulted, one at the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970 and one at LACMA the following year.

James Turrell and Robert Irwin

What makes the catalogue so compelling is its unconventional tendency to disclose everything: who backed the project and who was skeptical, contracts and letters, successes and dead ends, tales of the mutually beneficial interactions that resulted (notably Robert Irwin and James Turrell’s work with the Garrett Corporation) and of the mutually baffling (see John Chamberlain and the Rand Corporation). And all conveyed in a candid, deadpan style that makes the whole thing pretty charming. Here is the last line of an entry about Donald Judd, who exchanged letters (included) with the curators but did not end up participating: “Judd did not contact us while in California in September, 1969 and we could not locate him.”

Tom Drury


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