Holiday parties are usually a claustrophobic nightmare scenario where you’re crammed into a tiny space with everyone you’ve been avoiding all year, but the Judd Foundation’s was a different story. Last night, anyone who got tired of noshing on smoked fish from Russ & Daughters on the ground floor, where Donald Judd’s woodcut prints were on display, could mosey upstairs and tour five floors of the former textile building that the Soho artist purchased in 1968.
Thanks to the Foundation, Judd’s former home and studio has been kept much as it was when he lived there, complete with his own artwork and furniture as well as pieces by Duchamp, Oldenberg, Stella, and others. It’s an eclectic collection that ranges from a display of African ceremonial objects on the second-floor landing to a room illuminated by Dan Flavin’s fluorescent lights. When I entered the latter, the lights were casting their otherworldy glow on Wyatt Cenac’s hair.
Cenac wasn’t the only celeb present: also making the rounds were Solange, Sofia Coppola, Fran Lebowitz, Naomi Yang of Galaxie 500, and Leah Singer. But, despite the bold-faced names, this felt like a family affair from the moment Judd’s daughter, Rainer, got up on a table, declared herself the “resident romantic,” and thanked her brother Flavin (named, of course, after Dan). “Almost a decade ago we decided that this business, or this foundation, could only work if we had fun doing it,” she said.
“I don’t remember that part,” Flavin deadpanned.
Rainer tried to jog his memory: “I had a root canal and we were outside in the rain, and we were on our way uptown.”
Clearly, this was a very unconventional family. When Rainer noted that the potent eggnog that was being ladled out “wasn’t a tradition in this household,” her mother, Julie Finch, chimed in from the crowd: “Wait a second, it was a tradition in this house… you were too young.”
Rainer didn’t miss a beat: “Thanks for bringing it back and making us think we invented it.”
“I’m always correcting history,” Finch said to herself.
“Mom, do you want to add something else?”
With that out of the way, Rainer recalled how she and her brother “were raised in a close-knit community where the artist was the most important person in society.” After a sip of red wine, she continued: “raised to believe that the artist speaks to the unspoken, that the artist rocks the boat, the artist is, as Don said, original and obdurate and the gravel in the fucking pea soup.”
Don, as the kids called their dad, bought the cast-iron building, constructed in 1870, in November of 1968 and immediately set about fixing it up. “My requirements,” he wrote in an essay, “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.” The objects he placed throughout the building’s airy rooms were “intended to be thoroughly considered and to be permanent,” he said.
Later, Judd would buy property in Marfa, Texas, which the Judd Foundation also maintains. “This little corner of Soho and that little corner of West Texas,” said Rainer, “exist by our sweat and your support as ever reminders that space, light, old wood and enamel spoons, good knives, and art fucking matter.”
After Rainer gave credit to all of those involved in preserving that art, Flavin chimed in and thanked “the people at MoMA, who have no idea what they’re getting into” – a reference to the Donald Judd retrospective that will open in Fall 2017. A press release about the show promises that it will “address the great breadth of Judd’s artistic vision, which encompassed not only sculptural forms but also painting, printmaking, writing, art criticism, architecture, furniture design, and land preservation, as represented in Judd’s permanently installed homes and studios in Marfa, Texas, and at 101 Spring Street, New York.”
Flavin also thanked “everybody in Marfa who turned this dusty little town into a hotspot –whether that’s good or bad, I wont go there. But so it is.”
“There’s salad,” Rainer noted. “That’s important.”
You could tell she was half-serious about the salad. At one point during her speech, she held up a dollar and shared a lesson about it that her father had taught her. “I don’t know if he waved it in my face, but I think he must have — he said, ‘See this dollar? This is the difference between a lunch and no lunch, this is the difference between a thought and no thought.’ So give to artists and their work, give to us, or steal from the rich.”
Despite the appeal for funds, it was the Foundation that was in a giving mood that night. Guests went home with a poster, made just for the occasion, that showed 101 Spring Street as it appeared in 1970, when the Judds were pretty much Soho pioneers.
“This is Flavin drinking whiskey,” Rainer said as she pointed to her brother, a wee tot when the photo was taken.
The siblings also handed out Claes Oldenburg’s “I am for an Art” statement, from 1961. Flavin read the first line out loud: “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.”
And with that, everyone was sent off to ogle the Alvar Aalto armchairs and the early 20th century Hopi Kachina dolls.
If you’d like to do the same, you can book a 90-minute guided visit to 101 Spring here. Or stop by Thursday through Saturday, 1pm to 5:30pm, to see an exhibition of Judd’s metal furniture and woodcut prints, created from 1984 to 1993. The show runs through Dec. 19.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct a misquotation in the statement that begins “almost a decade ago…”