Ian North speaks with Donald Judd at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1974
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.