Donald Judd - Untitled (1971) multiple

Donald Judd – Untitled (1971) multiple – stainless steel and brown plexiglas – 69x58x10cm

Ever since I heard that Clyfford Still (1904-1980),  and later Donald Judd (1928-1994), wanted museums dedicated to their works, and this was many years ago, it has been a point of interest that has occasionally come to my mind ever since. What thoughts and confidence in a person as an artist could direct them to want and create such a thing?

A degree of egoism is good and required for artists to focus their talent and produce great works of art. Though, an egoism that says everything done by the artist is a great work of art, that people might be prepared to enter a large building dedicated to their works only, is unhealthy.

Claude Monet wanted to display his late, large lily paintings in a particular building, though this was more to create a kind of surround environment for them. It was a relatively small building and more about being site specific for these particular works. Other artists have gifted their works to national museums, or were anxious for their works to be looked after and cared for after their death.

Great and better works have been produced by those with more self doubt, like Claude Monet, and even Picasso, who was able to distinguish between his good and not so good works of art.

To be fair, Donald Judd includes a smattering of works by other artists in his museum. However, this is a Donald Judd quote taken from the catalogue for the first exhibition at the museum in 1987:
“It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again. Somewhere a portion of contemporary art has to exist as an example of what the art and its context were meant to be. Somewhere, just as the platinum iridium meter guarantees the tape measure, a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place.”

I have two issues with this quote. Firstly, I was struck by the absolute egoism of the last sentence. The other is his obsessive concern for the installation of the work. That an art work should require such finesse with presentation, strikes me as a weakness. The work should be good enough to effect the viewer despite the surroundings.

Looking at photos of the buildings and displays for the Chinati Foundation and Donald Judd Museum, I get an impression of a sterile environment. But Judd’s work is sterile. He takes out everything that is messy and sentimental, and doesn’t even leave an aesthetic emotion; maybe the last thing left in his work is a design emotion, but this isn’t enough for me.

Clyfford Still - PH-182

Clyfford Still – PH-182 (1946) – oil on canvas – 154x111cm

Clyfford Still’s work is messier, but he is hard to beat as the supreme artist egoist. The fact that he bequeathed the larger part of his oeuvre to any city that was prepared to build a museum dedicated to these works only, and which would be banned from selling or loaning the works to other museums, is evidence enough. There is one Clyfford Still quote I have found interesting. Referring to doing a copy of one of his paintings, he said: “Making addition versions is an act I consider necessary when I believe the importance of the idea or breakthrough merits survival on more than one stretch of canvas.” I find this quote interesting, because the usual motivation for a modern artist to do more versions is to improve on the expression, whether or not this is actually achieved by the artist.  Though Still’s notion it seems is a stance taken up by a lot of contemporary artists to their detriment.


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