The Hoot

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Grounded

by sadie • April 27

Last week, we joined some employees of The Judd Foundation for Food-and-Fodder: a lively discussion about the life and work of sculptor/artist/furniture designer Donald Judd. The whole thing took place sitting at the venerable table built by Judd and used by him and his family at their residence at 101 Spring Street, a mere stones-throw from our office.

Our conversation focused on an unpublished 1993 article by Judd on the topic of systems as they relate to art and architecture. The main tenet is the assertion that all buildings should sit on the ground, not lift above creating floating spaces.

And while we appreciate Judd’s convictions, by 1993 he was living in the wide expanses of Marfa, Texas. It made us question, is it different in New York City where land is at a premium and all horizontal space is entirely spoken for?

What about the High Line, the elevated public park on a former freight train line on the West side of Manhattan? After the trains stopped running in 1980, the neighborhood quickly realized the value of the unclaimed land above their heads.

Does the High Line contribute to the “mechanical swamp” that Judd calls the manufactured spaces that float disconnected from the ground? It certainly offers visitors a unique perspective from the city below. In fact, the elevated park has become a world unto itself, utterly distinct from the neighborhood which it bypasses.

The Standard Hotel (a building on stilts which straddles the High Line) has become famous for its glass floor-to-ceiling windows and exhibitionist guests who perform peep shows for High Line passersby. Despite what you may believe about New York, this isn’t all that normal. The elevation of the High Line and the Standard Hotel fosters a separation from the natural order of the city.

When buildings and spaces rise above the ground, they sever the connection with the land below. Donald Judd, looking out at the vast expanse of rich Texas soil, may have been appalled by this concrete construct.

In a city, however, where the land is concrete and the restrictions can often be stifling, subverting these rules can be liberating. Even necessary.

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The Judd Foundation is only able to conduct these discussions until the end of May, when they close the building for extensive renovations that will last years. So if you are interested (and you really should be), bring some snacks to share and knock on the door at precisely 5pm on Monday. You’ll be treated to a tour of his live/work space with the discussion to follow.