Donald Judd Writings (Judd Foundation/David Zwirner Books, 2016) at once resembles a brick and a bible. With compact, cuboid dimensions and containing over a thousand thin, silky pages, this exhaustive collection is itself a cheekily “specific object.” Judd’s son Flavin shared in its design and suggests in an introduction that we view his father’s writing as a “tool for future use.”
Judd begins by stripping his subject of any distinction—the square won’t be upheld for its purity of form or its democratizing evenhandedness here. He continues with a series of negations and what returns, once content is shaken off form like so much dust, is utility and difference.
Few institutions that would survive among the power structures of our culture can afford the presence of an individual who would challenge the merit of their rules, nor dare they embrace a code of conduct or administration that does not seek, and yield to, the collectivist denominators of this time.
Complexity does not only lie in the complicated, nor only in confusion, nor only in the formal sense. It does, though, in the conceptual sense and so it does in simple formal shapes.
I first encountered Donald Judd’s writings in graduate school. I was attending Robert Hobbs’ “Formalism Revisited,” and our reading list covered some of Judd’s texts, including “Specific Objects.”
Although I can’t find an actual quote where Don Judd states this, in Local History (1964) he comes close. During late night discussions in the mid-1970s, I heard Judd denounced as a heretic by elders of the hardcore painting tribe: a received myth is often more durable than truth.
Now as then, Donald Judd’s writing on art makes us mindful of the studio writ large. Verbalized or not, our art resides in the many decisions informing the manufacture of artifacts of some kind, for which tectonics and facture must speak to some clear purpose.
When I think of Judd as a writer, I think of his ability to see. Which is to say, I locate this beautiful specificity in the way that when Judd writes about an artist, he writes about that artist.
To mark the end of the year, the Rail’s Art Books editors, Ben Gottlieb, Phillip Griffith, and Greg Lindquist, and Managing Director Sara Christoph each selected a notable book from the past year to share with our readers. This is not a list of the best books of the year. Instead, it is an informal survey meant to highlight the diversity of art book publishing now.
Hans Haacke’s writings, like his art practice, bring to light the largely obfuscated systems of social relations that circumscribe an art object and its experience. Institutional interests and their relations determine power and ideology, of which an artwork circulating in this context may become a complicit representation.
Anne Carson’s Float flirts with the genre of the artist’s book just as did her somber, brilliant Nox and Antigonick, her collaborative edition (with illustrations by Bianca Stone) of Sophocles’s Antigone.
How To See the World: An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and MoreBy Sara Christoph
How To See the World is like a set of jumper cables for the eyes, jolting us out of our image glut. Nicholas Mirzoeff, a visual culture theorist and professor of media at NYU, continues the democratizing work of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) by expanding the scope of image studies to phenomena as diverse as 19th-century battlefield maps and astronaut selfies in space.