Poetry News

Donald Judd Didn't Care for Poet-Critics

By Harriet Staff

Donald Judd

If you're into art writing of the highly skeptical, practical variety, you'll love Donald Judd: Writings, published by the Judd Foundation and David Zwirner Books in November. In a review of the work at The Art Newspaper, Pac Pobric notes that Judd "did not care for Art News poet-critics like Frank O'Hara, whose book on Pollock had 'some baloney, and no real thought.’" More:

Judd's style was tougher, more exact; more practical criticism than art criticism. Nuts and bolts were what he was after: shape, colour, tone, hue. In a review of Burgoyne Diller's work from 1963, he wrote: "The color structures suggest the idea that different colors, given the same volume, appear to have different volumes in space. Or that different volumes, painted the right colors, can be equal or otherwise related. This is a good idea, but it needs considerable development."

He wrote hundreds of reviews like this between 1959 and 1973, primarily for Arts magazine where Hilton Kramer was the editor and paid $6 for 300 words. The articles are often sharp and articulate, but never quite completely comprehensible. Judd was an exact writer: specific, deliberate, but often too close to the thing to see it whole, like an assembly line worker who only does the fittings. He was an applied critic; his insights came from the mechanics of the thing and he disparaged those full-time writers who "invent labels to pad their irrelevant discourse" while artists actually made art history. No writer since Greenberg had explained Pollock as well as Judd did in his 1967 essay on the painter, but even then he was worried it didn't make sense. "It would take a big effort for me or anyone to think about Pollock’s work in a way that would be intelligible," he said, adding that he couldn't write "what I think should be written about Pollock." To really understand the painter "would be something of a construction. It is necessary to build ways of talking about the work"—to literally make something of it.

Here, at last, is the root of Judd's positive belief: that art is a holistic activity that requires not just ideas, but production, too. Through 1973, the latter had been difficult. Judd's work was expensive to make and difficult to sell. He made most of his money writing until then...

Read all of "The persistent disbeliever: on Donald Judd's writings."

Originally Published: March 27th, 2017