Featured, Preservation

The Conservation of Donald Judd’s first concrete work, Untitled, 1971

Donald Judd’s first concrete work, Untitled, 1971, was the last element added to the Glass House site’s historic core. The sculpture completes the composition of “asymmetric sliding rectangles” and “circles” that Johnson described in the first published article about the Glass House, “House at New Canaan, Connecticut,” Architectural Review, September 1950. Located at the base of the driveway and rounding the corner, Judd’s sculpture directs visitors around it and toward the entrance of the Glass House, integral to Johnson’s choreographed processional through the site. Conserving this sculpture enables the visitor to better understand the composition of the site as a whole.

One of the artist’s early site-specific topographic projects, the sculpture’s inside circumference is level, while the outside circumference runs parallel to the sloping ground plane, creating a beveled edge.

In 2009 a felled tree limb caused significant damage to the sculpture’s interior beveled edge. The damage compromised the artist’s intent and the interpretation of the sculpture. As a result, between July and December 2011, the sculpture was cleaned and repaired. This repair required cleaning the sculpture, analyzing the material composition of the concrete, matching new materials to the existing sculpture, and patching. This repair work also presented an opportunity to fill a large existing area of loss on the southern exterior wall, often referred to as “the large crack.”

This project was not a complete analysis of the sculpture or a complete restoration. Rather, it was a light treatment with as minimal intervention as possible, to preserve the sculpture’s original material and surface patina. Today, the performance of the repairs is actively monitored. Should the repairs underperform or begin to show signs of failure, the Glass House might consider embarking upon a more extensive, nondestructive structural evaluation, involving an in-depth analysis, such as a moisture infiltration survey and reinforcement mapping and wall assessment, in order to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

The appearance of the sculpture dramatically changed once cleaned. This is not the result of “over-cleaning.”

Click here to download the site plan of Untitled, 1971.

Click here to download the plan and section of Untitled, 1971.

About the Artist

Born in Missouri in 1928, Donald Judd  influenced contemporary art production from the late 1960s and 1970s until his death in 1994. His artwork and writings were considered “minimalist.” Judd scoffed at labels such as “minimalist,” and was critical of the art market as well as the New York art establishment of museums and galleries. In 1971, he retreated to Marfa, Texas, where he established a permanent residence and realized his singular vision, a private museum, the Chinati Foundation. The Chinati Foundation features a permanent exhibition of artwork carefully displayed in buildings and placed throughout the landscape.

Unlike Philip Johnson, Judd was not well-traveled or exposed to art and culture as a child. His first museum visit was as a teenager, and his first encounter with the American Southwest was as a young army conscript on his way to Korea via San Francisco. The bare landscape with its expansive and endless horizon strongly impressed him. He sent a telegram to his mother:

DEAR MOM VAN HORN TEXAS. 1260 POPULATION. NICE TOWN BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY

MOUNTAINS – LOVE DON 1946 DEC 17 PM 5 45

While in the army, Judd was assigned to an engineering unit where he learned to draft and survey land, skills that he would later employ in his artwork. After his military service, he studied at the College of William and Mary in Virginia before transferring to Columbia University. At Columbia, Judd majored in Philosophy (1953) and attended graduate school in Art History, studying with Meyer Schapiro and Rudolf Wittkower. He also attended studio art classes at the Art Students League of New York.

Judd’s interest in painting and Cubism slowly and progressively evolved to abstract, geometric works. He referred to his artwork, not as paintings or sculptures, but as “specific objects.” The large free-standing concrete sculpture at the Glass House is Judd’s first in an oeuvre that culminated in his masterwork, the fifteen free-standing concrete works at the Chinati Foundation. Judd was drawn to concrete for its “inherent unity,” which could give the impression of a single, self-contained whole. Its economy and plasticity also attracted the artist to the material. Comprising sand, rock aggregates, and cement, concrete appealed to Judd’s love of the natural world and landscape. This was highlighted by concrete’s ability to capture the wood grain of the form-work from which a sculpture was shaped.

In later writings, Judd would cite the sculpture at the Glass House as a seminal work with the beveled edge subtly evoking the contrast between the ideal and the real, between the general and the specific. An early collector of work by Donald Judd, Philip Johnson acquired his untitled sculpture directly from the artist in a trade for Frank Stella’s Gur II (1967), a large painting from Stella’s Protractor series.

Conservation Team

Integrated Conservation Resources (ICR) / Integrated Conservation Contracting (ICC), New York

Robert Silman Associates, New York

Object by Object, New York

Acknowledgements

The 2011 Cleaning and Repair of Donald Judd’s first outdoor concrete sculpture, Untitled (1971), was made possible in part by a matching grant from the Historic Sites Fund. The Historic Sites Fund is endowed in part by grants from the National Park Service and the National Trust’s Gifts of Heritage Program. Additional funding was provided by Edward and Catherine Romer and Irene Shum.

The Philip Johnson Glass House would like to thank the Chinati Foundation and the Judd Foundation for sharing their insight and experience and for providing guidance and support throughout this project from initial planning to its completion.

download pdf

Related Content

  • Philip Johnson: On Old Age

  • National Register Documents

  • David Whitney

  • Pond Restoration Project