Do not touch. Don’t touch. Do. Not. Touch.
“I spent a great deal of time placing the art and a great deal designing the renovation in accordance. Everything from the first was intended to be thoroughly considered and to be permanent,” writes Donald Judd in his essay “101 Spring Street.” The Judd Foundation clearly obeyed the artist’s wishes for the newly opened residence-museum, according to Judd’s own concept of the “permanent installation,” which “centered on the belief that the placement of a work of art was as critical to its understanding as the work itself.” All five floors of 101 Spring Street have been presented to look as they did in 1994, with the artist’s furniture, accessories and art impeccably arranged — so still, like they are glued on the the wall or to the floor to hinder any shifting. It’s hard to imagine that anyone ever lived there. But this is Donald Judd’s house. The Most Minimal Minimalist (but don’t call him that). Each floor displays art made by either him or his friends (Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella to name a few) in the 1960s and 1970s; 101 Spring has always been a gallery. Judd curated his pals’ artwork (acquired by bartering his own in return) along with signature pieces he felt most embodied the spirit of the space.
Judd wrote in 1986 “art and architecture — all the arts — do not have to exist in isolation, as they do now...all the arts, in fact all parts of society, have to be rejoined, and joined more than they have ever been.” The artist fused house and studio together at 101 Spring, and the result is a space that lacks the defining features of either. The studio suffers from having to yield to chores, making meals, and sleeping, while the house loses its ability to be a place of refuge, of recharging one’s batteries. Work can then preoccupy at all times.
The curious thing about transforming an artist’s home, or indeed anyone’s home, into a museum, gallery, or other artificially preserved space is the degree to which it becomes the antithesis of domestic. The home, your home, my home, a home should represent some level of comfort to the resident, where a sense of belonging in/to the space is inherent. Windowpanes smudged by oily fingers, a depression in the mattress, etc. are missing here; any trace that a body, living and breathing, had inhabited the space seemed to have been lost during the process of embalming. The absence of the corporal is a striking feature of 101 Spring, and it begs the question: was this how Judd and his family really lived? Judd’s home as “permanent installation” program suggests that they did. Yet even if small liberties were taken in the reconstruction, does knowing the environment is staged detract from an overall appreciation of Judd’s concept? No.
That’s a “look into” space, not a “go into” space.
101 Spring has the tendency to feel lifeless, projecting a hollowness not unlike the large metal work on the third floor. But this residence, ironically, was not built primarily for living, but for thinking (or as Judd describes it “his cerebral practice”). Visitors should be forewarned: very few household secrets are shared. It was forbidden to enter the alcove library and see what Judd liked to read (it would have been nice to see what texts inspired him). On one hand, the building feels so impersonal, devoid of vivacity; on the other, it is impossible to extricate Judd from the surroundings. He’s all over the walls, in every room. And immediately, it becomes the most private, personal space.
Every item displayed at 101 Spring exists because Judd wanted it to be there, in a specific spatial arrangement, fulfilling his vision of the relationship between art and architecture. In his essay “Specific Objects,” Judd writes “A work needs only to be interesting....It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting.” He succeeded in what he set out to do — the integration of art with architecture. Judd’s expression of the domestic is unique (and interesting) because it subverts traditional ideas of what domesticity is and should be.