Donald Judd’s Minimalist Furniture Will Be on View at SFMOMA

From July 14 through November 4, over 30 of Judd's pieces will be featured in an exhibition titled Donald Judd: Specific Furniture.
Donald Judd furniture exhibition SFMOMA

A drawing by Donald Judd for a birch plywood desk dating from 1990. © Judd Foundation

There was no good furniture in the town of Marfa—that’s what started it all. In true Texas spirit, Donald Judd decided, “Hell, I’ll just do it myself.” As simply as that, Judd, the American sculptor known for his genre-defining minimalist works, launched into furniture design, creating hundreds of variations of objects that suited his personal tastes. The work was refined yet utilitarian, using low-cost materials like slatted plywood, anodized aluminum, and brightly painted hardwoods.

From July 14 through November 4, over 30 of these pieces will be on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in an exhibition titled Donald Judd: Specific Furniture. Joseph Becker, associate curator of architecture and design at the museum, is tasked with translating Judd’s creative complexity into something comprehensive and experiential. But he will have to do so playing not only by traditional curatorial rules but by Judd’s as well. Chief among them, according to the late artist: “Furniture and architecture can only be approached as such. Art cannot be imposed upon them.”

The works will be presented within an ecosystem of art, photography, and pieces of furniture collected by Judd (including works from influential designers like Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe, and Gerrit Rietveld), many of which the artist used in his homes and studios. Alongside these pieces will be some of Judd’s original sketches for the furniture. “It allows visitors to peel the curtain back a little bit,” explains Becker. “This is the unfolding of an idea.”

And in keeping with Judd’s emphasis on function, Becker found a way around the museum’s no-touching policy: SFMOMA commissioned eight newly fabricated Judd pieces that will be set up outside the gallery for visitors to interact with.

“Judd’s best work changes as you walk around it,” explains Marfa historian Kathleen Shafer. The experience is a fluid narrative, she adds, one in which “art, architecture, and day-to-day living come together in one independent whole.”

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Categories: Arts + Culture, Design, Furniture