After moving from New York To Marfa, Texas, in 1973, the prolific artist and theorist Donald Judd started a paraller career as a furniture designer. He reported that, dissatisfied with the furniture he could buy in his new town, he began to make pieces for himself and his family, starting with beds for his children. The artist’s subsequent furniture production spanned 30 years and it includes chairs, beds, shelves, desks and tables, at first made of rough lumberyard-cut pine and later, commissioned by Lehni AG in Switzerland, in sheet metal, clear anodized aluminium, or solid copper. The wooden pieces were built by craftmen who employed several techniques and materials to reach the results and the level of precision the artist needed.
The relationship between Judd’s furniture design and his artistic philosophy is problematic: first of all the materials employed for both the practices are the same: simple industrial planks and joints in plywood and metal. Secondly, the shapes of the furnitures echo those of the purely artistic works: both employ geometrical volumes of austere simplicity, highly controlled and serialized. Judd’s main investigation remains the production of artworks which are “non-naturalistic, non-imagistic, and non-expressionistic”, but, for example, in order to produce a chair he had to introduce the parameter of function (an object to sit on) and image, (that of a chair). Therefore the artist decided to programmatically detach his artistic research from his design, declaring that he didn’t want to make any “artist’s furniture”, but real furniture that, in his words, “functioned well”.
“The art of a chair is not its resemblance to art, but is partly its reasonableness, usefulness and scale as a chair.(…) The art in art is partly the assertion of someone’s interest regardless of other considerations. A work of art exists as itself; a chair exists as a chair itself. And the idea of a chair isn’t a chair. (…) Of course if a person is at once making art and building furniture and architecture there will be similarities. The various interests in form will be consistent.” (Donald Judd from “It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp” 1993)
Of course, after reading this assertion, one cannot avoid thinking to Joseph Kosuth’s “One and Three Chairs“, the early conceptual work showing an object (a chair), alongside with its meaning (a dictionary definition of the word “chair”) and a visual representation (a photograph of a chair) and wonder if Judd implicitly wanted to comment on Kosuth’s conceptual concerns about the relation between a concept and its mode of presentation.
Furter reading and images sources:
It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp, 1993 Donald Judd
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