[Udo Glau has a doctorate in architecture and taught semiotics at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich. He has generously contributed his thoughts on art and Marfa.]
Please forgive me for my inelegant English, I generally lecture in French or German. I hope that the ideas of this old scoundrel are provocative, if not enlightening.
I am an old reprobate; I cheered when the Baader-Meinhoff gang gave the children of Berlin arms and encouraged them to fight the police. My aesthetic is based firmly on the idea that Art is life is dialogue is communication. To paraphrase Sontag, when a work no longer inspires dialogue it is dead.
Similarly, Duchamp said that a work of art has a lifespan like any organism. It is rare for this life span to exceed 20 years of relevancy. After that, it is no longer Art, it is art history alone. I do not deny the art historians their collections and their fussy notes… I just have little interest in it. There is so much life green and yellow and gold in the World; why should we look at white paper and black marks? Why should we marvel over the playthings of millionaires?
I toured Judd’s installation at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas under one of my many pseudonyms (Karl Schlossen) because I did not want any special, servile treatment due to my academic background. I found it impressive, but emotionally sterile. To me it was imitative of the consumer culture of fifty years ago. The Coca Cola bottle and the Volkswagen Beetle are the Platonic ideals of mass production and regularity (beautiful objects, particularly the milled aluminum engine of the Beetle). Why would an artist of Judd’s talent emulate this sameness when it is the bland, continual fact of Existence for the post-industrial man? Heavy-handed; where is the humor and the sharpness?
Also, a cafe that served light refreshments would be a welcome addition. Perhaps a bruschetta or or a slice of plum cake and espresso.
I do not deny Mr. Judd his work. It is clear from the market that collectors adore it. My question is this, though: is this a living work of art that enervates the people who contact it on a daily basis? I can’t help but say no.
The grounds of the Chinati Foundation are ill-kempt; the grass is long and untrimmed. The paint and trim on the buildings is peeling (forgive my German eyes for their fussiness). To me this reflects the attitude of an unhappy child whose father has died and who strives to keep the home in the state when Papa was there. Papa Judd has been gone nearly 25 years, no? It is time for housekeeping. It is time for life and art. Clean your house and kill your father!
If his work was taken seriously, then a living web of disciplined order would metaphysically extend from the grounds outward, like the leylines of a Medieval cathedral. I see chaos, clutter and deterioration surrounding the grounds. The center of Order in town is the rail tracks and the regular blasts from the horn of the train passing. That is life. That is art. One cannot forget the World turns and goods move from the mountains to the prairie to the seaside.
Also, it is an empty gesture to multi-culturalism to include Spanish translations to everything if there are NO WORKS BY PEOPLE OF COLOUR. If they care so much for the Hispanophones of the world, where are the Mexican, Argentine and Spanish artists? I imagine the typical visitor is like me: an educated, white bourgoise Western European. We are so flattered to see our sterile, Prostestant ideas replicated endlessly while we pay lip service to out multi-cultural largesse.
Judd’s work overshadows the other art. Flavin and Oldburg’s work is dwarfed by the massive collection of aluminum boxes. Many of the works (particularly those of foam rubber) have been poorly preserved. Is the deterioration meant to be part of the aesthetic? it is the same problem with Impressionistic canvases– the medium of oil can lose its color and lightness in as little as five years.
It is a foolish attitude that Mr. Judd can do no wrong and that his personal collection of 25 years ago is the “End-all Be-all”. The master is fine, but his students need correction.
I like Marfa. But it is more alive elsewhere. The Food Shark mediterranean auto diner to me is more interesting. It evokes the open road, and the glamour of classical American car culture.
The buildings that have migrated form and function (funeral parlor > beer garden, residential home > feed store, home > boutique etc.) are most entertaining. Also, Judd’s buildings themselves are more durable than his work– people live and work in them and engage in a non-interpretive dialogue with their surroundings.
I cannot tell you how many times the works of milled aluminum were described thus: “They respond to the light and the environment. The sun rises and they change color. The sun sets and they change.” The NKVD would be proud of how consistently the party line is given. Anytime a work of this magnitude has such a fixed interpretation, you know that it has died as a work of Art.
The best thing the Chianti foundation could do is to bring in Asterix Druids to read runes and re-consecrate the work. Mistletoe, lightning and the sacred, phallic oak tree. A board-member or bureaucratic functionary should be sacrificed and killed to demonstrate their passion (out with the old, in with the new). A Sig rune should be emblazoned on each box (in non-permanent marker of course) and a Norwegian Black Metal band should scream and yell over the silence of the boxes. Perhaps an iris or lilly will sprout and this unhealthy secular death-worship will cease.
Thank you for your time, whether or not you agree with me. Perhaps this fussy academic is a bit harsh and irreverant in his old age (my stomach was upset from local food while I took notes covering my trip; I didn’t pack sufficient digestive biscuits).
If these ideas interest you, I urge you to further read my Structuralist interpretation of Lalande’s “Pragmatisme, Humanisme and Verite” in regard to Rothko’s use of Colour.
[Please comment on Dr. Glau’s work. All opinions contained herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the opinions of West Texas Weekly, its staff or its publisher.]