Miscellaneous | 101 Spring Street
You are here: Miscellaneous » Features » The House That Judd Built
Time Out New York
These days you won't see many signs of life at 101 Spring Street. But the contents of the late Donald Judd's home changed the course of modern art.
The faded relic on the northeast corner of Spring and Mercer Streets is about as anonymous as a building positioned at one of the most well traveled corners of Soho could be. The mysterious gray edifice, among the last of the fine examples of cast-iron "skyscrapers" left in New York, glows like a jewel when its five floors are lit up at night But the only exterior signs at 101 Spring Street are two discreet symbols with the letters ADC on the doors and two words, JUDD FOUNDATION, in small type on a window. Untold hordes-from the Prada-clad Soho elite to guidebook-clutching tourists-pass by the address daily without giving it a second thought.
What they don't realize is that hidden inside are several floors filled with treasures that changed the course of modern art. Peer through the ground-floor windows and you'll get a hint: There's a row of fluorescent-light structures, five stainless-steel-and-Plexiglas boxes affixed to a wall and eight bricks carefully stacked atop one another. The boxes? Creations of the late Donald Judd, the irascible, influential artist who bought the building in 1968 and lived and worked there on and off until his death from lymphoma in 1994. The T-shaped lights are an installation by the late Dan Flavin titled To Don Judd, the Colorist. The bricks: a 1986 sculpture by Carl Andre called Manifest Destiny. Upstairs, works by Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg and, of course, Judd himself hang among the Alvar Aalto chairs and African masks that the resident artist surrounded himself with. Judd's concept was to integrate the art with the space around it, so that he was in effect living in art. As such, the building provides an indelible connection from the origins of Minimal and Conceptual art in the early 1960s-a rational, tactile response to Abstract Expressionism, the dominant form of the '50s-all the way to the recently opened Dia: Beacon in Putnam County, New York [see "Remains of his day," below].
But until last year, the fate of the art and of the building itself was uncertain, as the various threads of Judd's life became entangled while his complicated legacy was sorted out. The main players were two organizations: the Judd Foundation (headed up by Judd's daughter, Rainer), which handled the settling of the estate; and the Chinati Foundation, created by Judd in 1985 to oversee the art mecca he'd established at Fort Russell, an abandoned army base in Marfa, Texas. (Chinati is run by Marianne Stockebrand, the German curator who was Judd's lover at the time of his death.)
One participant even suggested selling 101 Spring in order to payoff debtsJudd owed several million dollars as a result of 20 years of buying property, mostly in Marfabut, according to Rainer Judd, the idea was swiftly cast aside. (The structure alone was valued at $940,000 soon after the artist's death.) Now the estate is in the final stages of closing, and the Judd Foundation has turned its attentions to restoring the building, which within the next few years could be kept open on a regular basis like a museum, provided the funding materializes.
"If there's anything to be preserved of the spaces that Judd created, you have to preserve Spring Street, because it gets you to everywhere else," says Rainer Judd, who has the title "executrix-trustee" on her business card. "It's really the beginning." The Judd Foundation has secured a grant from the National Historic Trust to do a feasibility study of restoring the structure. The first stage, the scaffolding needed as part of facade reconstruction, has been erected, and a major fund-raising effort is in the planning stages. If all goes well, a rehabilitated 101 Spring Street will tell the saga of an immeasurably influential person, place and time in art.
That saga begins with the idea of permanent installation, which ushered in a new way of thinking about art and its environment that transcended galleries and museums. As much a theorist in his early years as an artist (and later a collector as well as a creator), Judd was an established critic recognized for his caustic and perceptive commentary for Arts Magazine, Art News and Art International. At the same time, he was gaining acclaim as a founding father of Minimalism.
When he was searching for the home that he eventually found on Spring Street, Judd wrote that his requirements "were that the building be useful for living and working and more importantly, more definitely, be a space in which to install work of mine and of others." After he bought the former factory, which was erected in 1870 and was in total disrepair, Judd said, "I spent a great deal of time placing the art and a great deal designing the renovation in accordance. Everything from the first was intended to be thoroughly considered and to be permanent."
Judd was also a Soho pioneer, one of a handful of artists in the former no-man's-land who lived where he worked, surrounded by enough space to put his concepts to the test. Frustrated by how his art had been shown and handled by museums and galleries, and driven by the desire to demonstrate how it could be done properly, he worked with friends such as Flavin, Andre, Oldenburg, Stella, Larry Bell and John Chamberlain to install pieces inside his loft building.
By 1977, however, Judd was running out of space and, more significantly, running out of patience with what he described as "the harsh and glib situation within art in New York." In the midst of separating from his wife, the dancer Julie Finch, he split for far west Texas with his two children, Rainer, born in 1970, and son Flavin, born in 1968. The big art he subsequently created in the small town of Marfa is, of course, another milestone. The New Yorker described the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation properties the artist acquired in the isolated ranching community (where the film Giant was made) as the "Xanadu of Minimalism."
"101 Spring is the father of Maria," says Peter Ballantine, Judd Foundation art supervisor, as he unlocks the door to the building, in order to give a private tour of the space he has looked after since Judd's death. Facts fly as he makes his way through each floor. That ADC on the door stands for Ayala de Chinati, the name of Judd's ranch south of Maria. In the '50s, Ballantine says, Judd studied philosophy, including the works of Hume and Berkeley, at Columbia.
Ballantine goes on to elucidate Judd's desire, alongside other Minimalists of the early '60s, to counteract the emotionally fervent Abstract Expressionist movement, which had a dominant hold on the art world. "Judd thought you needed to verify things and know what you're looking at first," Ballantine says. "Otherwise, everything afterwards is built on sand. It was a reaction to '50s Abstract Expressionism."
In 1962, after years of painting, Judd made his first object. ("He never liked the term sculpture," Ballantine says.) His show at New York's Green Gallery the next year was a sensation. In 1968, at age 39, he was honored with a retrospective at the Whitney. "In those days, you either had to be dead or close to it to have a one-man retrospective at one of the big New York museums," Ballantine points out, "and he'd only been doing sculpture per se for six years." As the value of his work skyrocketed, Judd was able to buy his first vehicle, a Land Rover, and his first home, 101 Spring Street, which he snapped up for $68,000.
The structure's tall wood-frame windows let in a surprising amount of light for that part of the city. From early to mid-afternoon, it takes on a dazzling quality not unlike the brilliant light of Maria. The building, Julie Finch says, was always in transition. Judd abandoned the first floor and moved his studio to the third floor in 1973; the street-level windows made it too easy for friends and strangers to interrupt the artist's work. About a year later, the then-empty first floor was reinvented as his first permanent installation space. Part of the second floor became Finch's studio for dancing after Judd squeezed her out of the third floor. The rest of the second floor was dominated by a huge table, built by two workers from Maria, and by the kitchen, whose centerpiece was a commercial stove, a now-fashionable accessory that was rare in a private residence back then. "Don loved plain-looking, functional things," Finch says. He commissioned a David Novros fresco in 1970 and later installed an Ad Reinhart painting from 1952. Most of these furnishings and finery are as Judd left them, as if caught in amber.
The third floor, which contains a stand-up desk, a reading table, two large Judd pieces from the '60s, a Larry Bell glass sculpture and some Aalto chairs, was Judd's sanctuary. The fourth floor is decked out with an Oldenburg from 1961, a Flavin from 1962 and a Stella from 1967, alongside Rietveldt chairs and Etruscan candlesticks.
The family initially lived on the fifth floor. Judd designed dressing rooms and installed stainless-steel sinks. There's a loft for Flavin Judd and underneath it, a small room that was occupied by baby Rainer. The fifth floor also contains the largest Dan Flavin piece in the building, Dedicated to Flavin Starbuck Judd '68, a series of bulbs in interlocking metal frames that extend along the entire length of the floor. The Flavin complements Judd's first sculpture, the untitled work from 1962. The low-lying Judd-designed bed in the middle of the space arrived in 1970.
Soho, as it soon came to be called, was transforming as rapidly as 101 Spring itself was changing. A cooperative children's play group formed on Prince Street. Giorgio DeLuca ran a cheese shop on Prince before joining forces with Joel Dean. A restaurant called Food opened at the corner of Wooster and Prince. According to Finch, by the time she left the building on the way to divorcing Judd, ten years after they moved into 101 Spring Street, neighborhood artists were fighting discos.
Judd found that his money went further in Texas, at least in terms of wide-open spaces. But he never abandoned 101. In 1983, his children returned to live there and attend high school. And all along, the kids took their father's creative process in stride. "Art just came with the territory," Rainer Judd says. "101 Spring Street is the expression of how one person lived."
In Judd's last will and testament, the artist stated: "It is my hope that such of my works which I own at the time of my death as are installed at 101 Spring Street in New York City, or in Marfa, Texas, will be preserved where they are installed." Almost ten years later, it appears his hope will finally be fulfilled.
Donald Judd's ideas about installing art continue to fuel a movement 40 years later.
The idea of permanent art installation, which formed in Donald Judd's brain in the early '60s, sparked a transformation in how contemporary art is viewed and presented in the country's galleries and museums. Here, a time line of the sometimes contentious journey from Judd's early days in Soho to the newly opened Dia: Beacon.
>> In the early '60s, Judd complains about the way his art is exhibited and writes extensively about new ways of installing it. He philosophizes about the subject with Heiner Friedrich, a Soho gallery owner; the pair especially likes the concept of a single-artist museum. Some of their ideas are worked out at 101 Spring Street.
>> Friedrich is sufficiently inspired to cofound (with his wife, Philippa de Menil) the Dia Foundation in 1974. Dia is intended to give unlimited freedom to a small group of chosen artists, including Judd, Dan Flavin, Walter De Maria and composer LaMonte Young.
>> Soon after, Dia fulfills Judd's quest for space, light, privacy and permanency by purchasing Fort Russell, a former army post on 340 acres in Marfa, Texas. Judd converts the abandoned barracks and artillery sheds into exhibition spaces. Meanwhile, Dia funds other single-artist, site-specific installations, like De Maria's Lightning Field near Quemado, New Mexico.
>> Dia, in a financial crisis, auctions off some of its holdings and has to renege on some promised stipends to artistsincluding Judd. Judd, threatening a lawsuit, wins custody of his art (and another $2 million) in an out-of-court settlement. In 1986, Judd creates the Chinati Foundation to steward his installation works and the work of other artists at the Marfa fort.
>> The concept of a museum dedicated to a single artist becomes reality at the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, New York, dedicated in 1992.
>> Mass MOCA, a contemporary-art museum in North Adams, Massachusetts, opens in 1999 and carries on Dia's founding ideas. Its stated mission is to give artists "the tools and time to create works of scale and duration impossible to realize in the time and space-cramped conditions of most museums. We endeavor to expose our audiences to all stages of art production; rehearsals, sculptural fabrication, and developmental workshops are frequently on view to the public, as are finished works of art."
>> The Judd estate is settled in 2002, freeing up the Judd Foundation to preserve 101 Spring Street, as well as Judd's residences and smaller properties in Marfa, while the Chinati Foundation continues to oversee the big art at the Marfa fort.
>> Dia opens Dia: Beacon in May 2003 in an old factory building, the former Nabisco plant in Beacon, New York. The theories worked out at 101 Spring Street are manifested in Dia: Beacon's exhibition of such artists as Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra and, naturally, Judd.
Copyright 2008 © Joe Nick Patoski, All Rights Reserved. - Website design: Jodi Jenkins