In 1973 Donald Judd moved to Marfa, a quiet Texas town that he deemed to be "the best-looking and most-practical" place to call home. It was here that his art practice really expanded into furniture design and architecture, provoked largely by a scarcity of options: he couldn't find what he wanted so he made it himself.
In 1990 he purchased the Glascock Building—a two-story, 5,000 square-foot structure that was built in 1907 as a store—and turned the street level into his Architecture Office. Judd used the second floor as housing for guests and filled the space with a series of lacquer paintings by John Chamberlain and furniture by Alvar Aalto for Artek, creating an environment for viewing art.
Chamberlain's works were recently restored and now the Architecture Office is undergoing its own renovation, so everything was brought to the Judd Foundation outpost in Soho, where they are currently on display. The exhibition, open until January 18, is a rare opportunity to see elements of Judd's Modernist collection all together in a space that's similar in size and scale to their intended environment.
Judd was an avid Aalto collector and placed dozens of pieces throughout all the spaces he occupied in New York, Marfa, and Europe. He likely had a strong affinity for Aalto's comprehensive approach to design. As Aalto wrote in 1954, "My furniture is seldom, if ever, the result of professional design work. Almost without exception, I have done them as part of an architectonic wholeness, in the mixed society of public buildings, aristocratic residences, and workers' cottages, as an accompaniment to architecture. It has been great fun designing furniture in this way."
During a recent walkthrough of the show, Judd's son and Judd Foundation's Artistic Director, Flavin, explained his father's admiration for Aalto's work in even simpler terms. "They're good designs, that's it," he said. "If you go through the whole list we have [Marcel] Breuer, [Gerrit] Rietveld, Mies van der Rohe, [Gustav] Stickley, generic Mexican, antique English, French, German, Swedish, and mystery Scandinavian [in the collection]. The only commonality is that the designs are good. That's it."
For Judd, making and viewing art was "coextensive with the other activities of living," as an exhibition brochure explains. "Moreover, the ability to live with art was partially dependent on the ability to be comfortable. By placing Aalto furniture and Chamberlain paintings together, Judd created what was for him, a natural situation for viewing art in which one could, 'sit there and have a drink, or eat, or lie down, or read' and then 'look at the work.'" In other words, a setting that would allow a constant back and forth between daily life and art. "I think you look at it, think about it, do something else, then look at it again, or you talk and look at it," he continued. "It becomes a normal thing."
If you find yourself in Soho (perhaps needing a break from holiday shopping) pop into the Judd Foundation at 101 Spring Street to sit in the Artek chairs and ponder Chamberlain's light-filtering canvases.
The "Aalto + Chamberlain" exhibition takes place through January 18, 2020, and is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 1:00-5:30 PM.