Donald JuddFurniture: 1984

Donald Judd | Furniture: 1984
3 E 89th Street

There is design, there is sculpture, and then there is the furniture of Donald Judd.

Installation Views


There is design, there is sculpture, and then there is the furniture of Donald Judd (1928–1994). In the early 1970s, the great artist turned his mind to the project of furnishing his Soho loft, beginning with a pair of metal sinks and a wood platform bed. He was motivated not by any programmatic purpose, but simple aesthetics and pragmatism. No store-bought furnishings could have been appropriate to his vision of clarity and total integration. A few years later, when establishing himself in Marfa, Texas – where “there was no furniture and none to be bought, either old or new” – he returned again to the discipline. This was the beginning of a more sustained engagement. From this moment on, he began creating furniture not just for his own immediate purposes, but as a self-standing investigation, parallel to his art and not to be confused with it (“a work of art exists as itself,” Judd wrote, “a chair exists as a chair itself”). He executed the forms in basic pine, at first, then moved on to other woods, and eventually metal.

Like his art works, Judd’s furniture forms are precise and orthogonal, fabricated by hand to his dimensions. They are possessed of that extreme simplicity that comes only from extensive refinement, honed to absolute finality from all the possibilities afforded by space itself. Judd wrote compellingly of his thoughts on this furniture. His most well-known statement on the topic, tellingly, is titled “It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp.” Clearly, his essential dissatisfaction with what was available commercially – almost all of which he dismissed as “junk for consumers” – was still in place. But Judd also realized how difficult it was for mass producers to resist mediocrity, given the challenges of manufacturing costs and distribution. This explains his strategy of a restricted production, which allowed him to retain total control over quality and quantity. “Our furniture goes around the world,” he wrote, “but only one by one.”

Salon 94 Design is honored to represent this important material, making it more available to the public. The timing right – given the Judd retrospective on now at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which allows visitors to use his iconic wood benches and chairs. Given our cross-disciplinary breadth, Salon 94 Design is uniquely well positioned to contextualize the furniture in a specific and autonomous way, free of any determinant category.

There is also a personal connection here. Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, founder of Salon 94 and Salon 94 Design, lived with Judd’s work growing up in St. Louis. Greenberg Gallery, owned by her father, was the artist’s primary Midwestern venue. Their house included major works, and moreover, subscribed to his tenets. “Our furniture was spare and essential,” she remembers, “a Saarinen kitchen table, a Judd bench, a makeshift table of trash cans with a slab of wood on top. The only flourish was Diego Giacometti.” Of his outfitted Land Rover, she remembers sitting in it, “feeling its heat and strict lines, its proportions perfectly symmetric to its function.”

To be sure, S94D’s program ranges far outside the aesthetic that Judd made his own. Yet even the differences are fascinating. Consider the way, for example, that his contemporary Gaetano Pesce’s (born 1939) metamorphic, open-ended works juxtapose to Judd’s tightly calibrated furniture – a true contrast of the Dionysian and Apollonian. But transcending the particularities of individual artistic visions we can see a program in its entirety, as deeply informed by Greenberg Rohatyn’s early encounters with Judd. “A single one of his chairs,” she notes, “through its sheer discipline, can rearrange and re-order a room.” That lesson still animates the gallery’s program today. Judd’s furniture may be orchestrated from a geometry of lines and planes. But in its new home at S94D, it has come full circle.