Ned Beauman on On Donald Judd

Did he really have nothing to hide? This, I confess, was the question at the front of my mind when I took a guided tour of the artist Donald Judd's house in Marfa, Texas last October. Judd not only renovated the former army building, but also designed all the furniture inside, and since his death in 1994 it has been meticulously, some might say obsessive-compulsively, preserved by the Chinati Foundation: the books left out on the table in the library, for instance, are the very same books that Judd happened to have been consulting the last time he spent an afternoon there. So you're supposed to walk around appreciating the perfect continuity of life and art in this house – under Judd's diligent hand, a mere kitchen chair instantiates all the same values as a sculpture destined for MoMA.

And yet what preoccupied me was one specific rule of Judd's aesthetic, which was that everything had to be out in the open. There are lots of shelves, but no cupboards. This gives the rooms a sort of ingenuous quality, which is pleasant, and yet it also feels not quite human. Did Judd, a middle-aged divorcé, have nothing whatsoever in his life that he wouldn't have wanted his children or his houseguests to see? Did he have no prescription medications, no contraceptives, no pornographic magazines, no embarrassing mementoes? Did he have, in other words, no private life? Perhaps somewhere in the Judd bedroom there is in fact some sort of box, or boxes, and you just can't see it unless you know where to look. But if that were the case, it would undermine the whole project by reducing its apparent incorruptness to a false sanctimony. By all means, hide things in boxes. But don't hide the boxes themselves. Acknowledge that, like all of us, you have things to hide and you need places to hide them. (Then again, it also could be the case that there really are no boxes there. I don't know.)

Thankfully, there is one site of open rebellion in the house, and that is his children's bedroom. You aren't allowed to take any photos on the tour, and of course the official images only show the official highlights, so I don't have any way of checking exactly what I saw there. I only remember that it looked almost like the bedroom of normal teenage children, and was exhilarating for that reason. I dress in a pretty strict palette of black and dark grey, but I'm well aware that whenever one meets a self-serious monochromist like me, the single most interesting item in their wardrobe immediately becomes the bright red Sonic Youth T-shirt they wear to bed (or whatever else it might be). All human beings are, at heart, eclectic, and the appearance of absolute purity can be inspiring but it's never quite plausible. If it's the exception that proves the rule, you may as well put the exception front and centre, because the deeper down you hide it, the harder everybody will look for it.

www.nedbeauman.co.uk

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