PRINT April 2000




To the Editor:
Philip Leider is dead wrong in his understanding of Donald Judd's concept of “singleness” [“Perfect Unlikeness,” February 2000]. Judd's aesthetic of singleness did not derive from Malevich, as Leider claims, nor did it, as Leider believes, “seek work that isolated. . . a single element, such as color, or texture, or the qualities of a new material.”

Judd's debt to Malevich in forming his idea of singleness can be quickly dismissed, as Judd himself did in “On Russian art and its relation to my work” (Art Journal 41: 249–250). While this essay is filled with poignant statements that flat-out reject the artistic values of Malevich (and Mondrian), those most relevant for the issue here read, “I soon became biased against small units, as in most of Malevich's paintings . . . a bias caused by the distant activity of Pollock, Newman and Rothko. . . . Also, the small units seemed to have a vestige of fragmentation, which I very early thought an impossible, trivial position.” Of course, one is always free to doubt what Judd has to say on the subject, though Leider's essay is devoted to just this issue.

Leider's notion that Judd's singleness might somehow refer to an isolated visual or material property demands more attention, as it is key to a widespread misunderstanding of Judd's concept of the specific object. Closely following empiricist David Hume, Judd believed that sensation comes as a unity, and any rational division of sense data into component parts violates fact. Color, material, shape, texture, and volume must inhere in a work of art as a single unit. According to Judd's philosophical principle, art comes as sensation all at once and not in an assembly of separate parts later combined in the mind, which would be a visual presentation of the rationalistic conceptions he so thoroughly rejected. Hence, the very same passages by Judd from “Specific Objects” that Leider quotes, but with their meaning fully reversed from Leider's understanding: “It isn't necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole is what is interesting.” And, a bit later, “In the new work, the shape, image, color and surface are single and not partial and scattered.” Such beliefs are not, as Leider writes, “the isolation of a single element. . .”; rather, they amount to a belief that any such isolation is nonsense.

I could go on about the importance of various types of empirical philosophy for the development of Judd's aesthetic beliefs, but hope this should suffice in a letter. As Judd did not write, but should have with gritted teeth: No parts, dammit!

David Raskin
Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, University of Akron
Akron, Ohio

Philip Leider responds:
The section on “singleness” began by saying Judd never explicated singleness with absolute clarity. This would seem to indicate that other interpretations would not surprise me, but Dr. Raskin's identification of “singleness” with “not a lot of pieces,” and his calling on Hume and Judd's “philosophical principles” to back it up, strikes me as about the stupidest that anyone could come up with. Still, I wouldn't call it “dead” wrong: only brain-dead wrong.

Because readers may so easily compare our differences, I'll forgo the usual tedious point-by-point rebuttal; besides, Raskin's undergraduates can do that for him easily enough. And, since he is primed to “go on about the importance of various types of empirical philosophy,” I'd better end here, or he very well might.



To the Editor:
Once again I enjoyed reading the articles in the recent issue, but once again I am perplexed by one of the titles, this time for George Baker's piece about Knut Åsdam's work [February 2000]. Certainly the article discussed a number of complex and eloquent pieces with great lucidity. And the cover amply illustrates that piss comes into the equation. But “Piss Eloquent”? I may be missing something, but this seems nonsensical. Perhaps Baker was building on the solid historical argument he makes with a cryptic homage to Dada? I could understand if this was merely a weak play on words—“eloquent piss,” for example—even if it vaguely sounds like “it's eloquent,” but there seems to be a consensus among everyone who has seen it that the title is utterly meaningless and detracts from the sophistication of both the argument and the material under analysis.

Surely it's the editor's responsibility to let the magazine's writers know when their choice of title is pathetic, not to mention puerile. On the other hand, the similarly weak cliché-pun “That's Als, Folks” on the letters page suggested to me that something else may be going on. The consistently ridiculous titles of articles in Artforum by excellent writers whose bibliographies read intelligently apart from pieces published by your magazine make me suspicious that the editor is taking a rather more active role in titling the pieces. If this is indeed the case, please let me know. It would be unjust for the writers to bear the weight of the editor's inadequacies as a “wordsmith.”

Ben Borthwick

The Editor responds:
You know what they say about dreams and jokes. . . Admittedly, the plays on words that customarily occur in Artforum titles don't always live up to the eloquent prose of our writers; in the harried pace of producing a monthly magazine, the stray pun might even be of a quality one might characterize as “piss poor,” so to speak. Given the leisure, we would no doubt be equal to the task; we might even find insightful and entertaining titles that did not depend on comprehension of colloquial expressions. In the case of the essays you mention, perhaps we should have just stuck to our initial impulses: “Two Responses to a Recent Article by Hilton Als,” with an appended editorial note notifying readers that the magazine would not likely continue to publish responses to Mr. Als's essay; and “The Video and Installation Works of Knut Åsdam: An Eloquent Response to the Legacy of Postminimalism Under Contemporary Conditions of the Commodification of the Public Sphere.” All the same, we thank you for your kind indulgence.