- Place made
- reinforced concrete
- 126.0 x 760.0 x 660.0 cm (irreg.)
- Credit line
- South Australian Government Grant in association with Marshall and Brougham Pty Ltd 1974
- Accession number
- Media category
- Collection area
- American sculptures
In 1973, during the planning of Some Recent American Art, a touring exhibition from the Museum of Modern Art, the curator Jennifer Licht proposed that one of the exhibiting artists, Donald Judd, execute a major site-specific work in Australia. When the Art Gallery of New South Wales was unable to identify a suitable site, John Baily, then director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, swiftly moved to secure the work for Adelaide.
This is an edited transcript of a tape-recorded interview with Donald Judd conducted by Ian North, AGSA’s Curator of Painting, in his Adelaide office on 30 May 1974.
The interview was recorded for the Gallery’s archives. It was a relaxed occasion, Judd lounging in a visitor’s chair, wearing embroidered cowboy boots, and speaking his mind freely.
IN: How does the work that you are producing for us relate to work you have been doing in the immediate past?
DJ: Well, I think as I told you, there is one other concrete piece – it belongs to Philip Johnson – which was a circle. And I can’t quite remember when it was made, it was made two or three years [ago], and the chances for a concrete piece, actually, the chances for any large permanent piece are rather scarce.
IN: Yes, you surprised me a bit.
DJ: We sell a lot of pieces but they are all sorts of moderate, household-size pieces. In order to make me happy, or sort of minimally happy, because it isn’t all that fast, we try to make up to two or three large pieces each year. So that is why I am saying, we sort of got in a corner with Leo [Castelli, Judd’s New York-based gallerist] because here was the chance to make one large piece, and save us losing 5000 or 10,000 bucks maybe to make it, which is what usually happens. The smaller pieces support the bigger pieces.
IN: I’m surprised you haven’t made more pieces in concrete, in that it’s a fairly cheap medium.
DJ: It wasn’t cheap in Connecticut. I expected it to be cheap too. The circle [Untitled, 1971] cost $8000 to make.
IN: That astonishes me …
DJ: Of course I didn’t pay for it, Johnson paid for it. This shouldn’t cost that much. The circle involved all that formwork.
IN: Don, how preconceived was the triangular piece you are doing for us?
DJ: It’s not very preconceived.
IN: I meant in the sense of how much of its form did you have in your mind before you saw the site, before you actually came here?
DJ: Well, I thought I was going to have to deal with a flat site because John Baily said it was flat and the concrete pieces were sort of developed in terms of a slope, so I really didn’t have a piece for a flat site. So I had been thinking rather steadily for however long this came up, three weeks ago or more than that maybe … about what I could make in concrete that would be suitable for a level spot. Somewhere – it had been kind of vague in the back of my mind – was an idea to make it triangular. Actually the idea was to make triangular steel pieces, as well as concrete pieces.
IN: Yes, this is the first triangular piece?
DJ: This is the first triangular piece of any kind made. So everything got abruptly reversed because John [Stringer, from the Museum of Modern Art] met me at the airport and I realised that the piece of land was sloped, so then I could have gone back to … an idea has a number of possibilities. So Johnson’s piece, where the slope, the bevel, was on the outside, the bevel could be on the inside, so in a way we had two pieces there, so the other circle could have been used here. That’s pretty predictable; I know it would have been a nice piece. But also now that I’ve seen the first thing, it’s a sure thing and I’m inclined to … it’s more fun … to take a chance on it …
IN: I’m glad you did. DJ: Wait to you see it first before you say that. [Laughter]
IN: Did you envisage that the triangular pieces and perhaps your sculpture in general would relate to their physical environment, as with the bevelled edge? Did you conceive that to apply generally to your sculpture?
DJ: The siting?
IN: Yes … well, the siting but also the bevelled edge following the contour of the land. Was that conceived to be a regular feature, as it were, of your work?
DJ: Yeah, I’ve been trying to figure out something with some way to use the slope of the land for a long time.
This rare, site-specific sculpture by Donald Judd was commissioned by the Gallery in 1973, on the occasion of the artist’s visit to Australia for the touring exhibition Some Recent American Art, from New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The offer of a site-specific commission was initially made to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was also hosting the exhibition, but when that gallery was unable to identify a suitable site, the Art Gallery of South Australia secured the piece. The artist proposed that he create a large concrete work similar in scale to one he had made in 1971 for the Philip Johnson Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, in the United States.
Before he arrived in Adelaide in May 1974, Judd did not know the site, nor had he decided on the form the sculpture would take. After inspecting the grounds, he chose a gently sloping lawn at the rear of what was then the main Gallery building. He then made a series of drawings of an equilateral triangle with a graded tilt along its upper edge and pegged the ground at the selected site. The construction of the sculpture, which was twenty-five feet (7.6 metres) long, was undertaken by a local company, Marshall & Brougham, under the direction of engineer and Gallery trustee Philip Fargher. Before his departure from Adelaide, Judd had approved the materials, which included large plywood sheets to form the wooden mould.
When unveiled in January 1975, the sculpture articulated Judd’s interest in reconciling the binary spatial relationship of the local terrain with an ideal level. Contemporary art critic and historian James Lawrence has described the work as belonging to Judd’s ‘topographic objects’, among which he notes that ‘one element or edge always indicates the horizontal line – the ideal level – while another follows the local gradient of the land’.1 This is evident in Untitled, where one side of the bevelled edge of the sculpture follows the gradient of the slope while the other the horizontal ideal. The smooth, single concrete form carries the impression of the wood from the mould, whereas the bevelled edge is executed with precision.
Although a build-up of the land at its base has altered the reading of the sculpture over time, the work nonetheless retains its power to activate the viewer’s perception of the space at the rear garden of the Gallery’s grounds.
1. James Lawrence, ‘Donald Judd’s works in concrete’, Chinati Foundation newsletter, vol. 15, October 2010, p. 7.
Maria Zagala, Acting Curator International Art pre-1980