The Great Big Book of Judd and Marfa

19 Nov

If Donald Judd had been President of the United States, instead of a “mere” modern artist who re-created a small West Texas town in his own image, the Chinati Foundation in Marfa would have been his presidential library. 

Like the presidential libraries I’ve visited – George Bush’s in College Station and John F. Kennedy’s in Boston, plus all the Lyndon Johnson exhibits around Johnson City – the sprawling museum on a decommissioned U.S. military base offers a first-timer’s survey course in Judd’s life, work and thought, along with (literally) a place to see who his friends were. As at any such library, there is a tendency to look on the bright side, to downplay challenges or disappointments during each president’s one or two terms. And there’s always a staff, paid and volunteer, who will assure you that # XX was The Greatest President Ever. 

Yep, that’s pretty much the Chinati Foundation. 

So I was hardy surprised when the organization, which functions as a near-reverential museum for works by Judd and buddies like Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain, recently released a beautifully printed book. It is, the folks there say, “the first comprehensive overview of the museum’s history and collection.” Edited and principally written by Chinati director Marianne Stockebrand, Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd describes how Judd developed his ideas of the role of art and museums from the early 1960s onward, culminating in the creation of Chinati and including its two predecessors—his building in New York and his residence in Marfa. 

The sumptuously illustrated book (with 149 color and 71 black-and-white illustrations), co-published by Chinati and Yale University Press, begins with an introductory essay surveying the history of Judd’s work in Marfa, then presents the individual installations at the museum in chronological order, with some truly stunning photography.

In addition to the essays by Marianne Stockebrand, the volume contains texts by Rudi Fuchs, former director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate in London; Richard Shiff, professor and Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art at the University of Texas; Rob Weiner, associate director of the Chinati Foundation, and Thomas Kellein, current director of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Germany and, as of January 2011, successor to Marianne Stockebrand as Chinati director. 

Also featured, since Judd filled volumes with thoughts on art during his lifetime, are writings relating to his architectural adaptations at Chinati. A detailed catalogue of the collection and artists’ bibliographies are included as well. The book’s design is by Rutger Fuchs, who has designed all of Chinati’s printed materials since the mid-1990s; principal photography is by Florian Holzherr and Douglas Tuck. 

Judd himself published a modest Chinati catalogue in 1987, but that’s long since out of print. Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd surveys and documents everything that Judd achieved in Marfa, and all that has been accomplished in the years since his death. As Thomas Kellein writes in his foreword:

“The book at hand, conceived and edited by Marianne Stockebrand, recreates Judd’s path as he created the Chinati Foundation. She does this with detailed descriptions and with newly commissioned, extraordinary photographs of the works and their setting….[T]he new book about Chinati is as much an exquisite document as it is a personal invitation to discover Marfa and Judd’s achievements—more fully than ever before.” 

Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd retails for $65. There is a special edition of 250 copies, each housed in a clamshell box and signed and numbered by the nine living artists represented in the Chinati collection: Carl Andre, Ingólfur Arnarsson, John Chamberlain, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg, David Rabinowitch, and John Wesley. The special edition is priced at $2,500. For more information or to order copies of the book, please visit http://www.chinati.org or call 432-729-4362.

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