November 7, 2016
Following a period as an art reviewer, working largely for hire, Judd’s writings from the late 1960s and early 1970s take a decidedly polemic tone, a decision that is not surprising given his stance against the Vietnam War and his support of the civil rights movement. One of his earliest and most concise comments on the connection between art and socio-political attitudes, Judd’s “Statement” from 1968 expresses his resistance to the over-reach of institutional power and the oppressive nature of war. Timely and relevant in 1968, this essay is uncanny in its prescience of the current political climate in the United States. As Judd writes: “The United States has had one civil war and it could have another over civil rights and the meaninglessness of the present political system.” As evidenced in Donald Judd Writings, similar concerns continue in Judd’s work from this point forward, most notably in his criticism of the first Gulf War.
— Caitlin Murray
Co-Editor, Donald Judd Writings
Director of Marfa Programs, Judd Foundation
Any art involves philosophical, social, and political attitudes. It’s hard to generalize about all art and the United States but essentially the best art is opposed to the main kinds of power and to many of the prevailing attitudes. I can’t see how I can be outside of the society, which is a wish sometimes, so I’m within it. I don’t think things would be better elsewhere. The other alternative is isolation and not working. I assume that I can resist the various institutions and uses of power and also the docility and conventionality of the country. The United States is still a hierarchical country, sort of a large oligarchy, though apparently not as hierarchical as Europe, which may be the difference between European and American art; my work and that of most artists is opposed to that hierarchy.
I’m not against large government or large industry or whatever is necessary to do something required. I object to government, industry, and business having power beyond that needed for their usefulness. Industry and business are the making and distribution of goods and they should be just that and not more. However, they run the country, retain money, by-produce disproportionately rich and powerful people, install Eisenhowers and Johnsons, and forbid domestic changes. Most Americans are content with the whole thing; they think they have a say in the government and they think they’re well paid. They are fairly ignorant of their own interests and of course completely so of anyone’s elsewhere. The United States has had a foolish foreign policy ever since World War II, and perhaps before, and there hasn’t been much opposition to it. Most people know nothing about the war in Vietnam except that it’s sponsored by the government. They think the government should do little thinking and planning at home but abroad should be omniscient and powerful. It’s difficult to moderate a police chief in a little town in Mississippi but easy to destroy a government in Guatemala.
My work has qualities which make it impossible for it to be in agreement with all of this. It couldn’t exist, wouldn’t have been invented, in agreement or acceptance of this.
There are several catastrophes which could destroy American art. Since World War II I’ve always thought a major war was possible. I’m very tired of the idea. The United States has had repressive periods before but there is now the possibility, though not the likelihood, of an extreme Russian or German kind of repression. If it lasts, it doesn’t even take such extreme repression to destroy art. Serious art can’t coexist, for example, with the present Greek government.1 The United States had one civil war and it could have another over civil rights and the meaninglessness of the present political system. It’s a new possibility. I never understood how the Germans could do what they did. I’m beginning to and for the first time it seems that the United States could start, quite purposefully, a major war and intentionally commit similar atrocities. Vietnam is a deliberate atrocity. The fact that a large number of people oppose the war doesn’t even cause the government to moderate its actions. Obviously if any of this happens there won’t be any art; otherwise there will be and it won’t be compromised by what is disagreeable in the society. A lot of awful societies have produced good work.
- On April 21,1967, only a few weeks before scheduled elections, right-wing Greek military officers, aided by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, carried out a successful coup d’etat, seizing control of all of Greece by the early morning of the next day.
Donald Judd Writings, co-published by Judd Foundation and David Zwirner Books, is the most comprehensive collection of the artist’s writings assembled to date. The book is available November 2016. Full schedule of public programs here.