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Artists, Writers Gather in New York to Summon the Spirit of Donald Judd Through Marathon Reading

Fran Lebowitz at the Judd Foundation.

Fran Lebowitz at the Judd Foundation.

SCOTT RUDD EVENTS/©JUDD FOUNDATION

You can almost feel the ghost of history at the Judd Foundation’s space. The New York building’s floors creak, its crown molding is a softly worn shade of white, and it has that warm, oaky smell that one associates with libraries and museums. This past weekend, underneath a collection of steel extrusions of various bright colors—a signature sculptural style by Judd, who is due to have a Museum of Modern Art retrospective next year—fans congregated in the halls of his former home in SoHo to summon the Minimalist sculptor through a marathon reading of his interviews. Put on by his foundation, Independent Curators International, and David Zwirner Books, the three-hour-long event made it feel as if Judd himself were in the room.

Most know Judd, who died in 1994 at the age of 65, for his art, but his writing is equally famous among a die-hard crowd. Brick-like tomes of his writing and interviews have been put out regularly by the foundation, and his criticism has been published by art periodicals such as the one you’re reading right now. In some ways, Judd was more prolific as a writer than as an artist. He also gave numerous interviews, so it required a full afternoon even to scratch the surface of them. On tap this past weekend to read some of them—which are newly compiled in a 1,050-page book—were artist Josh T Franco, Flavin Judd (named after a different Minimalist, Dan Flavin), curator Juliana Steiner, ARTnews executive editor Andrew Russeth, critic Phyllis Tuchman, and writer Fran Lebowitz. Most readers paired off, with one side speaking as the interviewer, and the other reading as Judd.

“We’re not sure which parts we’re going to play yet,” Josh Baer joked as he took the stage. Baer was partnered with Flavin, and what ensued promised to be a mixing-up of Minimalist dynasties: Baer is the son of painter Jo Baer, and Flavin’s father is none other than Judd himself. In the end, the two decided not to cross familial lines, and Flavin, reading as his dad in a 1962 interview, said, “I want to make things I want to look at. I don’t want to make things that stand for things I want to look at.”

Baer, reading as his mother, made the case for a medium that Judd looked down on for most of his career: “Personally, I find that paintings can be richer in ideas, if somewhat poorer in presence than three-dimensional objects. The flat wall concentrates the mind of the viewer rather wonderfully.”

It was all a bit drily funny—in a way that the sculptor himself probably would have appreciated. Speakers spent about 30 minutes pondering the value of different materials, and a film of the artist at his home in Marfa, Texas, from 1993 was screened. When asked how he came to choose Marfa, a very, very small town in the 1970s, Judd responded simply, “I like the land.”

Attendees of the "Donald Judd Interviews: Marathon Reading Program"

Attendees at the “Donald Judd Interviews: Marathon Reading Program.”

SCOTT RUDD EVENTS/©JUDD FOUNDATION

A good number of attendees were there chiefly to see Lebowitz, who wore an oversize blazer, cowboy boots, and a steely expression. Throughout the event, she took regular breaks on the foundation’s stoop, cigarette in hand.

Pretty much everyone who spoke that day read in pairs. Lebowitz went solo, reading lines that Judd spoke in front of a ticketed crowd that congregated in his home in 1993 for a benefit. “I’ve had this building for a long time, it’s hardly ever had so many people in it,” she said.

Lebowitz spoke with frankness and conviction as Judd. “As you can see,” she went on later, “for 30 or 40 years, the ideas in my work haven’t changed much. And that’s what I intended in the first place. I wanted something that would develop naturally without being forced, and it changes on its own or as I go along.”

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