PRINT Summer 1994

Larry Bell

I MET DONALD JUDD in 1965. I was in New York for my first show at the Pace Gallery, Barbara Rose and Frank Stella had a party, and Donald was there. I knew of his work through magazines; not much of it had been seen on the West Coast at that time. I liked the guy straight away. He was the most amusingly odd person I had ever met.

His interest in my work was very flattering and he was the first artist ever to buy a piece from me. He paid it out over a couple of years—the figure wasn’t very much but no one had any money in those days. With the final payment came a terse note: “That’s It.” Donald was not a person to make mindless chitchat.

In 1966 I moved back to California but went to New York on a regular basis and visited Don if he was in town. I was with him when he got the call that Barney Newman had died. He was devastated. I had never seen him externalize emotions other than a chuckle or two from my silliness. A few years later he and Julie stayed with me for a couple of weeks In Venice on their return from Baja California. He talked about buying land there. He had little patience for the city and once told me New York’s main attraction was watching people screw from his window. He was also Interested in Texas.

One memorable visit to Marfa found the man in a rage over his relationship with the Dia Foundation: they were through with him (they thought). Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain were there also, trying to calm him down. Flavin suggested he just let it go, and John was of a similar opinion, he told me: “What do you say when people buy a million dollars worth of your work and don’t want any more? You just say thanks.” Donald was of another opinion and the rest is to be seen at Chinati.

Sadly, we didn’t see each other much the last few years; my move to New Mexico put me in de facto exile and it was pointless to call him because I knew how much he hated to talk on the phone. Besides, he was usually in Europe. I recall he liked to sip exotic tequilas and talk about art dealers while munching on greasy pork sausage, of which there was always an abundant supply around his house.

I last saw him a couple of years ago in Switzerland, where he was having one of his many exhibitions. Donald had helped me to arrange for a show in Cologne; he still had faith in my work, though it had changed considerably since the early days. We flew hack to New York together and had dinner at an Italian place he liked over by Mulberry Street. He was a faithful friend. His discipline was memorable, as were the moments of droll humor when he would lay a one-liner on me that would clarify a situation unequivocally.

Over dinner we discussed an event that had happened in the late ’60s. I had talked him into having dinner at Max’s Kansas City (he and Julie lived around 19th and Park at the time), a place he didn’t like: “Too many artists,” he would grunt. At dinner I almost strangled on a piece of steak, and swept him out of the booth onto the floor as I ran to the bathroom around the corner (in retrospect the worst thing I could have done). After relieving my plugged throat of an obscene piece of meat, I returned to the table, panting and quite ashen of color. He looked at me and sipped his whiskey, finally saying,

“I told you I didn’t like this place. Besides, you eat too fast.”

Donald had a combination of insight, kindness, and skill that is very rare, and he maintained a fierce independence and a tenaciously aggressive posture in the art world that should be a lesson for us all. I was lucky to know him.