Issue Number: 119
The restored New York factory building where Donald Judd lived is an homage to his minimalist life and art, writes Sarah Whitfield
The former home and workplace of the sculptor Donald Judd, 101 Spring Street, opens to the public this summer after a lengthy renovation. Standing at the corner of Spring and Mercer Streets in the SoHo district of New York, the cast-iron-and-glass building, an old clothing factory, is a magnificent example of 1870s industrial architecture. When Judd bought it in 1968, it was so full of rubbish that he described it as being like an enormous Arman installation. With its five floors above ground – with their marvellous light from the 12 floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around each floor – and two basement levels, Judd had space to create his own ideal environment for living and working.
Donald Judd’s bedroom at 101 Spring Street, New York, with works, from left, by Judd, Claes Oldenburg and Dan Flavin. Photo Mauricio Alejo-Donald Judd AR/© Judd Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, 2010/Artwork © John Chamberlain/© Lucas Samaras/Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (New York/courtesy of David Zwirner, New York).
Standing in the bedroom on the top floor, one becomes aware that the building is 30 per cent glass. The room is minimally furnished, as it was in Judd’s lifetime, with just two pieces of furniture: a large mattress laid on a low platform and a 19th-century Italian settee with delicate splayed legs. Three iconic works of art dominate the room: Judd’s untitled wall sculpture from 1962, Claes Oldenburg’s Light Fixtures at La Coupole (1964) made from pieces of stuffed soft canvas, and an untitled light installation by Dan Flavin, commissioned for this space by Judd in 1969, its brilliance challenging the Manhattan light outside.
The cast-iron-and-glass glory of 101 Spring Street, New York. Donald Judd Furniture™© Judd Foundation. Photo Paul Katz/ © Paul Katz/Courtesy Judd Foundation Archives. Judd’s own architectural ingenuity is seen on each floor, every inch following his demanding specifications. The feel is that of a family house, lived in and enjoyed, with a vast pine dining table in the kitchen area, childrens’ bedrooms, and a built-in puppet theatre. The dressing rooms and bathrooms, with Judd stainless-steel sinks and wooden closets, have the intimacy of use that belies the perfection of the craftsmanship.
The exception is the studio on the third floor. Here the spirit of concentration that is the hallmark of Judd’s sculpture has not been lost (he was adamant about not being interrupted while working and the silence is still palpable: the desk at which he stood to work has a monastic air). Particularly striking is the specially designed library at the back of his studio – Judd viewed his writing as seriously as his art. It is a small version of the huge library at his second home in Marfa, Texas, another pilgrimage site for art enthusiasts.
Judd’s uncompromising attachment to America’s industrial past and the ways in which that steely aesthetic related to his work, combine to make Spring Street more than just another artist’s resurrected studio. Nor will the building be frozen in time. The ground floor, where Judd used to study his finished work, will show a changing selection of his art. If you can’t get to New York this summer, David Zwirner gallery in London also opens its Judd show in June.