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.” These came at a good time; I was adrift in the studio. I had applied to Yale with work that was self-confessional and Pop inflected. My priorities were changing, and I had a desire to work more directly with the architectural and digital templates that surrounded me.
Flavin Judd has called his father’s writings “a tool for future use,” and that has been my experience with them. Reading Judd revealed the edges of ideas I hadn’t known I was limited by. Most salient were his rejection of Cubist fragmentation: “In the new work the shape, image color, and surface are single and not partial and scattered” (“Specific Objects,” 1964); and his careful reconsideration of the relationships among surface, image and object: “The entire shape, the structure and the image are coextensive” (“Lee Bontecou,” 1962). His concerns with basic questions of optical perception and physical support felt especially relevant to me in light of emerging digital and printing technologies that are shifting the terms of platform and illusion.
Equally valuable was Judd’s openness to an expanded field of production: “Most of the new materials [...] are hard to relate to one another. They aren’t obviously art” (“Specific Objects”). I wanted to work with materials and processes that resonated with how images looked and felt as I most often encountered them: on a pixelated screen, in a digital print, on the side of a building. I had started to see how materials are never neutral but always tied up in a context, a history: “Nothing made is completely objective, purely practical or merely present” (“Specific Objects”).
Probably the most enduring—and endearing—thing I picked up from Judd is his deep respect for art as a place of discovery and self-determination. He showed me that value systems and aesthetics are created, and because of this, they can be revised: “I wanted work that didn’t involve incredible assumptions about everything” (“Statement,” 1968). This recognition allows a break with precedent and an independence that so many artists (myself included) need to define a practice on their own terms: “The good ones have invented their own work, made something to suit them” (“Statement,” 1966). For Judd, art is a present-tense activity: “The best artists living now are valuable and not replaceable” (“On Installation,” 1982). It is done now by living people with particular concerns: “The art in art is [...] the assertion of someone’s interest regardless of other considerations” (“It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp,” 1993). And these specificities are where new ideas come from.
ETHAN GREENBAUM is a New York based artist. Recent projects include FACE TO FACE, a selection of international emerging artists from the Ernesto Esposito Collection, Palazzo Fruscione, Salerno and exhibitions at Stems Gallery, Brussels and Galerie Pact, Paris. Forthcoming projects include a solo presentation with Lyles & King at the 2017 Armory Show and a solo exhibition with Super Dakota, Brussels.