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Donald Judd
at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Feature by Richard Speer

Donald Judd is currently the subject of an exhibition of prints, a presentation of sculptural works, and a scholarly conference.

Portland, Oregon, might seem an unlikely spot for a three-pronged Donald Judd convocation, given that the late Minimalist’s closest geographic associations are with New York City and Marfa, Texas. But this month, Judd is the subject of an exhibition of prints at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, a concurrent presentation of archival materials and sculptural works at the University of Oregon’s Portland campus, and a scholarly conference sponsored by the University. The impetus for these events came from Portland-based curators Arcy Douglass and Jeff Jahn. They felt that the Pacific Northwest was overdue to revisit Judd nearly four decades after the artist’s 1974 installation in a Portland warehouse, a project sponsored by the now-defunct Portland Center for Visual Arts. The region also holds interest for Judd-ites because many of Judd’s wooden sculptures were made with Douglas fir specially obtained from mills near Eugene and Roseburg, Oregon.

For these reasons, and to illustrate the dynamic between authorship and delegation central to Judd’s oeuvre, curators Douglass and Jahn invited Yale School of Art Dean Robert Storr to deliver the keynote address at the upcoming conference, which is entitled Donald Judd:  Delegated Fabrication—History, Practices, Issues, and Implications. Peter Ballantine, Judd’s fabricator for a quarter-century, and Portland Art Museum chief curator Bruce Guenther will also speak about the ways they experienced Judd as a maker and thinker. The curatorial thrust is that Judd, despite his reputation for clinical austerity — most archetypically seen in the “Stack” bronze, copper, milled aluminum, and steel pieces — was in fact far from a finish-fetishist. Rather, he sought materials that were rough-hewn and anything but immaculate. Judd’s overriding concern, the curators hope to illustrate, was not with surface, but with form and space.

A corollary of this is that Judd had no qualms with delegating his works’ fabrication. The 1974 installation in Portland, Jahn offers, was constructed entirely without Judd’s physical presence on site. The artist trusted his fabricators to carry out his plans as outlined in detailed drawings and instructions. The artist saw the finished piece for the first time when he arrived in Portland for the opening. Some of those drawings and written correspondence will be on display at the month-long exhibit that the conference will kick off. The show will also include two wall-based sculptural works (one in metal, the other in plywood), and two floor-based works.

In conjunction with the conference, Elizabeth Leach Gallery exhibits Judd prints dating from 1961 to 1980. Although they feature geometric shapes, the works are far from hard-edged. A trio of orange-red prints from 1961, executed not with inks but with oil paint on paper, have a distinct, brownish nimbus around rhomboid forms, made by bleeding the oils around the images’ sides. The unconventional media also contributed to a slight crumpling of the paper. Together, these effects impart a fuzzy haze to what would otherwise have been pristine linearity. The show includes prints of similar shapes in royal blue, as well as a series of rectangular forms with closed and open-ended rectangles within them. A similar series, which Judd returned to from 1961 to 1979, shows orange-red rectangles with prison bar-like lines similar to those that would eventually be adopted by Neo-Geo artist Peter Halley.

Across the exhibition, Judd’s duet between fastidiousness and the organic holds sway, along with his inexhaustible appetite for arranging and re-arranging objects in space to create an experience for the viewer that is essentially kinesthetic.

- Richard Speer

The Donald Judd conference takes place 10am-3:30pm, Sunday, April 25, 2010, at the University of Oregon, Portland campus, 70 NW Couch St., Portland
Cost is $85, $35 for students. More information at http://www.juddconference.com

The Donald Judd conference exhibition opens April 25 and continues through May 21, 2010, at Portland: White Box, 24 NW 1st Ave., Portland.

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