Lynch Architects

'Donald Judd's architectural fury' in: The Architects' Journal by Patrick Lynch

20 Nov 2008

Published on Architects Journal online on 24 November 2008

Donald Judd developed from philosopher to art critic to artist and then towards architecture and finally polemic. We visited his house and the Chinati Foundation at Marfa over New Year in 2005. His art-sheds and fields filled with land art sat peacefully in the tepid equatorial winter air. You can sense his concentrated attention and almost religious devotion to detail. He shepherds spaces, condenses and arranges things with precise affection and care for a visitor’s perception. Judd aspires to the same ambitious program that throughout history we have called architecture. This entails tending and husbanding the earth and its effects even if the situation is invented and theatrical. Marfa is something like a Baroque project in its fragmentary complexity, where architectural imagination tends towards the creation of images of order, even if these are un-natural.

It is odd how far behind art architecture lags. Judd’s 1964 essay ‘Specific Objects’ attacks the specious poses of Yves Klein and his attempts to make art a spontaneous joke. In true dialectical fashion Judd rails against Klein’s blue-daubed bodies, fabricating against this a case for perception itself as the subject of art. Since Judd no one at arts school has trusted the myth of artist-seer. Unfortunately this myth still drives the embarrassing image of the mindless architect-god of the star system. Architects and schools that try to emulate artists are almost all 50 years out of date.

Judd’s other contribution to architecture is the essay Nie Wieder Krieg (“Never Again War” in Donald Judd Architecture, Cantz Verlag 2003) written just before ‘Gulf War I’ in 1991 and his death three years later. Discussing the effects of the war machine upon culture he defies us to doubt that: ‘The consequence of a fake economy, which is a war economy, is a fake society. One consequence of this is fake art and architecture… The art museum becomes exquisitely pointless, a fake for fakes, a double fake, the inner sanctum of a fake society.’ Frank Gehry gets both barrels. Long before what Richard Serra called the ‘wafer thin junk culture of the Guggenheim’, Judd decries the ‘horrifying design of Frank Gehry’s museum of design for Vitra. These buildings make a joke of art, of culture, of the community, and of the whole society.’

Now it is easy for us to forgive the dying rants of a sick man. Much harder to forgive are the dying rants of a sick culture. If I read Judd correctly the avant-garde actions of the military industrial complex pay homage to and mimic the bombastic aggression of the futurist manifesto. The Futurists’ crypto-fascist fantasies haunt architecture today. War imitates bad art. Or as Hannah Arendt has it, the banality of evil mirrors bad architecture in its obsessive and brain-dead desire to force you to react to it. Judd’s example is an easy one to dismiss as patrician, but he was right I think to point out that ‘Fascist architecture’s main quality is not it’s aggressiveness but its mindlessness and vague generality, that is that it is fake. Mostly the fake disappears, which is less likely in architecture than in disposable art.’ Judd brilliantly yokes together the neo-con policies of American Evangelicals with the future-hubris of the international architectural avant-garde. Both want the fake purity of a new beginning, a cleansing Armageddon. Both worship technology, the modern God of war. Both see speed as force. In contrast, Judd’s architecture is a gift, no threat.