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UNTITLED, 1989 (89-43 Ballantine)


THANK YOU This exhibition supported in part by the generosity of: Anonymous, Peder Bonnier Inc., Judd Foundation, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Anthony Meier Fine Arts, MillerMeigs Collection, Jarl Mohn, the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, PDX Contemporary Art, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Bonnie Serkin and Will Emory, Irving Stenn, Van de Weghe Fine Art, and Wieden+Kennedy. Exhibition loans: Peter Ballantine, Paula Cooper Gallery, Margo Leavin Gallery, Miller-Meigs Collection, Jarl Mohn, Portland Art Museum and the Crumpacker Library (PCVA archives). Special thanks to Arcy Douglass. Additional thanks to Karl Burkheimer, David Millholland, Paige Saez, Julie Yamamoto, White Box and University Oregon Portland. All photos by Jeff Jahn unless otherwise noted. Gallery guide design by Darius Kuzmickas.

WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION UNTITLED, 1989 (89-41 Ballantine) Two units, unpainted Douglas fir plywood. Courtesy Margo Leavin Gallery UNTITLED, 1989 (89-43 Ballantine) Single unit, unpainted Douglas fir plywood. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery UNTITLED, 1970 (DSS 234) Stainless steel, wire, amber colored transparent plexiglas. Courtesy Jarl Mohn, Los Angeles UNTITLED, 1963 (DSS 41) Douglas fir plywood, painted cadmium red with 27 divisions. Courtesy Miller-Meigs Collection, Portland BERNSTEIN BROTHERS PURCHASE ORDERS Courtesy Peter Ballantine SELECTIONS FROM THE PCVA ARCHIVES, Crumpacker Family Library, Portland Art Museum COVER: Exhibition view (on the walls , left to right) UNTITLED, 1989 (89-41 Ballantine) and UNTITLED, 1989 (89-43 Ballantine), (on the floor, left to right) UNTITLED, 1963 (DSS 41) and UNTITLED, 1970 (DSS 234) All images Judd Art Š Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, NYC

April 25 - May 21, 2010 White Box, University of Oregon in Portland 24 NW First Ave, Portland, OR 97261

UNTITLED, 1974, Portland Center for the Visual Arts, courtesy Portland Art Museum, Crumpacker Library PCVA Archives. Photo: Maryanne Caruthers

(left to right) UNTITLED, 1970 (DSS 234) and UNTITLED, 1963 (DSS 41)

SHOW, DON’T TELL: CURATORIAL NOTES ON DONALD JUDD IN PORTLAND The Donald Judd exhibition we1 organized this spring at the University of Oregon in Portland was the first non-commercial Judd show west of Texas since November 1974. The 1974 show, which was as radical as anything Judd ever did anywhere, was also in Portland, at the daring and ambitious PCVA2, sadly closed (and missed) since 1988. There are space restrictions here but I’d like to briefly discuss the subject of curatorial ambition and self-restraint for show-making in general and as we tried to apply them to our Judd show specifically. For me, the test of the quality of any show has always been how well it answers both of the following questions: how necessary is/was this show and why now? and how close can/did it come to succeeding, as a show, strictly on visual terms? Because there tends to be an inverse relationship between the size and abstraction of a show’s argument and its curator’s skill and confidence to avoid interfering with the work explaining itself, satisfying both of these goals is very rare. One way of falling short is show as illustrated lecture; another, its opposite, is the all-visual show without discernible focus, but there are a whole series of compromises in between. Our decision to ‘bring Judd back to Portland’ was of course on one level a reference to Judd’s early place in Portland’s contemporary art history but, as pleasing as this symmetry was, it was actually two big issues Judd’s 1974 show contained

Judd pieces got fabricated or, in the case of the pieces, that they had been fabricated. To avoid leading our audience, we used ‘natural’ (non-programatic) installation and the most basic labels possible (short of using none at all which, though very tempting, would have been a curatorial excess itself). There is a wonderful question-and-answer interview Judd gave to a group of students in Germany in 19907, in which he strongly advises artists against talking or writing about their own work, textifying it (or worse) in the process - acting as critics in effect - because translating visual art to language and imposing abstract structure on it, rather than letting it ‘explain’ itself, rarely leaves even the best art unweakened. Although Judd doesn’t say so here, the curator is closer to the artist than to the critic, but potentially more dangerous to the art than either, because he has the power to select, withhold, order, interpret and otherwise control an audience’s experience of the art at the time and place of the experience. I believe that the show-don’t-tell restraint we have discussed above is the highest and most radical use of this power, and that the bigger and more necessary the show’s argument the more important it is for the curator to work to let the art make that argument itself. This was our goal at White Box.

that we were interested in - the increasing role unpainted plywood played in Judd’s work after the early seventies3, and the extreme form of delegated fabrication he had developed by then4 - necessary subjects at the center of his art whose details and radical implications have never been seriously discussed in a show. We addressed these and related subjects in a scholarly symposium the same day our show opened5 but, in spite of this one-day overlap, the show and the symposium were always strictly separate. We were determined from the beginning that the show would succeed or fail on its own merits, and especially that it would avoid any sense of illustrating the symposium (or vice versa). In fact, most of the April 25-May 25 show’s eventual audience saw it without having attended the symposium, or perhaps without even ever having known about it. The White Box is a small gallery consisting of two naturally-lit rooms plus a closed, separate-feeling film and video room6 - overall a size, arrangement and focusability that in New York or Berlin might be called a ‘project space’, something I increasingly like working in these days, and especially liked for our purposes. One of the two rooms consisted of Judd floor and wall pieces, the other of Judd drawings and fabricators’ working drawings, plus a few extra parts from Judd pieces (including one red-painted plywood panel left over from the construction of one of the two floorpieces in the show) everything both independently itself and indicative of either how

Peter Ballantine


1 Jeff Jahn was my Portland partner for this show. 2 The Portland Center for Visual Arts, founded in 1971 by Mel Katz. Given its volunteer basis and ‘fumes’ funding, PCVA’s reach and exhibition history were remarkable. ‘Fumes’ funding and volunteer labor were just one of the situations our show shared with the 1974 PCVA Judd show, something I argue both shows benefited from, although this is a longer discussion. The show consisted of the PCVA’s one large room with one large plywood piece, constructed over a few days by local volunteers to fit three of the room’s four walls, based on their best performance (my term) of Judd’s very ‘minimal’ instructions. He apparently saw the piece before the opening, but my experience of working with him as fabricator for nearly 25 years, and from a certain rough unresolvedness to the piece itself, leads me to believe there was observation but little or no what might be called supervision. 3 Douglas fir plywood’s connections to the traditional economy of Oregon is of course a pretty pleasing connection but I’m more interested in two other aspects of Judd’s use of Douglas fir plywood before and after 1971. First, how it changed from, essentially, a heavily (hand) painted and fairly unspecific ground, to a material used as itself, generally unpainted or, when painted, transparently enough to be easily identified as plywood; second, how plywood as plywood not only became one of Judd’s materials of choice, but his material of choice for his most radical work, e.g. the PCVA piece. The workmanship problems solved by delegating his work to fabrication made the new use and role of plywood possible. Between the 1974 PCVA piece (or as Judd always called it the ‘Portland Piece’) and the works in our show, four of the five works are plywood. 4 Except for a dozen or so pieces before 1964, all Judd works were fabricated. Our show argues that fabricated ness, and a better awareness of how fabrication actually works, is important to understanding Judd’s work. All four of the works in our show were fabricated, rather than made by Judd himself, even Judd, ‘Untitled’, 1963, Douglas fir plywood painted cadmium red light (DSS 41, fourth example). 5 Also at the University of Oregon Portland. The one-day symposium, April 25, was titled Invenit non Fecit and subtitled ‘Donald Judd Delegated Fabrication: History, Practice, Issues and Implications.’ 6 Where, for context (but unrelated to the show itself), we ran a 1993 documentary about Judd. 7 Seminar session at the Ruhr-Universität (Bochum), reprinted in Donald Judd, Kunstverein St.Gallen,1990, p.55: Michael Vingold: I’ve read that you don’t like to talk about the content of a work [...] Judd: It’s destroying what should be together and it’s destructive in the work of art. The artist is trying to make a totality. It’s a bad idea for the artist to demolish that totality. That’s the main reason, I think, why artists don’t want to talk about their work. They put it all together and it’s sort of perverse to sit at a table and take it apart again. It’s a legitimate activity, or should be, when an art critic does it. To discuss it, they have to demolish it, in thinking about it you reduce it. It’s perhaps necessary to do that.

INTRINSIC FINALITIES Perhaps no artist in the history of art has exerted greater control over the ideal presentation, production and discussion of their own work in the context of their peers than Donald Judd. Rather than entrust his legacy to other institutions, he created two of his own (the Chinati and Judd Foundations) and influenced countless others through his ideas and writings. Understandably, in these uncertain times this self-sufficient ability to “create one’s own weather” has heightened interest so acutely that Judd has become a benchmark of American achievement and integrity in art. Sadly this creates equally idiomatic issues for both museums and scholars alike, making satisfying exhibitions rare. The exhibition Donald Judd was designed to assay the de-radicalization or one could say “object beatification” of this radical artist. Our teleological approach presented never before shown working documents and parts that simultaneously demystified and paradoxically revealed the radical process of making a Judd piece. Documents exhibited stood witness to decisions such as: plywood for the 1974 PCVA piece was resold at a discount, purchase order specifications for an early progression repair owned by Dan Flavin were changed for subsequent examples and Peter Ballantine’s own installation photos of the 1979 “Castelli Piece” showed just how little micromanagement Judd exercised over his fabricators. This is because Judd’s own teleological outlook exemplifies what is called intrinsic finality; in that the piece exists to satisfy its own visual/spatial operational end concerns. Thus, a piece was correct if it operated in a manner; non-compositional, spatially manifold and devoid of arbitrary elements, not as an investment style fetish of a particular grade of plywood or MacMillan plugs etc., which are market driven side effects. In addition to the documents and Chris Felver’s film, the works were installed in a cast iron building (a Judd preference). The exhibition felt different than a typical museum style treatment. Instead of a shrine, it was effectively a library for research and contemplation of space. The placement of works was also non compositional as the small room virtually dictated the positioning, looking all the better for it. Lastly, it was a rare privilege for Portlanders to share and learn from co-curator Peter Ballantine’s unique 42 years of expertise as a Judd fabricator, friend and curator. Primary sources such as Judd’s fabricators are of the utmost historical significance as history is rapidly erasing their stories. Though he would likely balk at his importance, this exhibition is distinguished through Peter’s involvement and we hope the project spurs further meaningful exploration of Judd’s very specific world. One, which due to its intrinsic finality can be explored even without being part of the artist’s inner circle. Which is also to say, Donald Judd exhibitions with integrity and purpose can be still be staged if Judd’s life and work is treated as a integral and radical whole.


Jeff Jahn UNTITLED, 1970 (DSS 234)

Donald Judd - exhibition catalog  

Catalog of Donald Judd exhibition at the University of Oregon in Portland, OR.