PRINT February 2005




To the Editor:

It would be wrong to conclude from Ann Temkin’s “Wear and Care: Preserving Judd” [Summer 2004] that Judd tolerated damage to his art. Visitors to “The Block” in Marfa who wonder about double standards, because they aren’t aware of how Judd worked after 1964—when fabrication began—or how he sometimes used damaged pieces returned to him in Marfa to work from (in what were, at the time, extremely private studios), are missing much of the importance of what they’re now seeing.

The leap from Judd’s interest in the subject of history to his appreciating damage to his art as “history” is spectacular. In fact, Judd hated damage and considered it a kind of graffiti, if not vandalism.

I agree that it’s relevant to the Judd restoration question to discuss “Panza,” but only if the discussion is based on what really happened at the time, not the version found in later, hardened positions. The dispute essentially started out as a disappointment about bad workmanship. Even after Panza had refused to use Judd’s New York fabricators, if he had bothered to construct the works competently and correctly in Italy there might very well have been no dispute. Bad workmanship, even if the materials and dimensions were otherwise correct, was a kind of damage; wrong details were unwanted details.

Incidentally, rough workmanship and bad workmanship are not necessarily the same thing, and irregular materials such as plywood and galvanized iron with “inherent markings” (grain and spangle) are no less injured by noninherent detail than “number four” stainless steel or “mirror” copper.

Judd had no hesitation or Walter Benjamin–esque nostalgia about repainting or replacing damaged parts, or entire pieces, if they were wrong or damaged to the point of detracting from the art. Worrying about “something made in 1966” looking as if it were made later was never his concern. His remark in an argument with Stella in the ’60s on the subject of anachronismos in art is telling: “Frank, there isn’t old work and new work, there’s only good work and bad work.”

During some years in the ’70s and ’80s about 5 percent of Bernstein Brothers’ work for Judd was repairs and replacements. There might have been even more but for the small-shop bottleneck effect: As Judd’s work came to be more and more concentrated with a single mechanic (working in a roped-off “Judd area” of a larger business that made other products), shifting that worker away from new production to restoration work brought new production to a halt.

By the early ’90s the problem and number of unrestored Judd works had become so great and backed up that Judd thought briefly about setting up a separate restoration service, but the mostly financial complications were never resolved—and there was still the small-shop effect.

Temkin’s article is timely and adds to the discussion, but unfortunately it misses a little too much important history. Maybe it just needed to be longer.

—Peter Ballantine, New York


To the Editor:

As a student in Columbia University’s MFA program, I wanted to point out an amusingly ironic oversight in John Kelsey’s rant in “On the Ground” [December 2004]. Kelsey portrays the New York art world as dominated by the whims of young collectors. He singles out the Columbia MFA program as a “feeding tube” for these collectors, producing “artist-monkey[s]” who fail to resist their own instrumentalization and instead create easily manageable and consumable “faux-rebel” art. In contrast to these “over-educated” artists, Kelsey celebrates the work of Andrea Fraser, Gareth James, and Rachel Harrison, among others. The irony is that these three artists all teach at Columbia!

What this blunder makes clear is that Kelsey allows for little complexity in the problems he is addressing. He is correct in assuming that some people come to Columbia with the idea that their careers will be handed to them along with their otherwise useless diplomas, but some of us see things differently. Some of us still believe in education. At Columbia, we are exposed to the ideas of Fraser, James, and Harrison, as well as those of Coco Fusco, Jonathan Crary, Rosalind Krauss, Benjamin Buchloh, and many others. While contact with radical thought makes for an outstanding educational experience, it comes at the cost of $36,000 in tuition per year and huge personal debt. Because of this situation, many graduates have indeed been overly eager to please the market while still holding on to some shred of artistic autonomy (for more information, you can contact my gallery, Taxter & Spengemann).

I would also like to point out that many Columbia graduates have not followed this pattern. Haven’t heard of them? Maybe it’s because they’re not the ones getting high-profile shows in Chelsea or being talked about in Artforum.

While I agree with many of the sentiments in Kelsey’s article, his well-intentioned tirade against education and sellout artists is reductive and divisive. If we are interested in changing the manner of artistic production today, it will take more than diatribes against fellow artists; it will require real change in the system’s structure. One place to start would be for Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, to make good on his promise to support the arts by lowering tuition and providing more financial aid.

—Daniel Lefcourt, New York

John Kelsey responds:

You seem to have combined two separate paragraphs from my “tirade” in order to produce a statement I never made. I didn’t say Columbia graduates are monkeys! I should also mention that I, too, went to Columbia and have an MFA (and debts), so I’m really not the antimonkey you take me for. But I think most of us would agree that, in a market-driven art world, Columbia (like Artforum) has a certain function: It works; it puts us to work. In fact, my “feeding tube” line came directly from the mouth of one of your artist-teachers. And I do agree, it’s a pretty complex world where an artist can go up to Columbia and get paid to critique Chelsea, then come back down a few hours later and do some business of his own.

I’m not antibusiness either; that would be too simple. Some of the best art is business art. My feeling was that the New York art world, as well as the city itself, was especially neutralized in 2004. I targeted certain tendencies that, in my opinion, collaborated in this neutralization and pointed out some others that seemed more minor, intense, and resistant. The point wasn’t where artists go to school but the strategies artists and galleries choose in order either to produce or to escape the normal situation. I think your comment about tuition is good, and thanks for that, but it’s not only a question of debt and sales; it’s also a question of how you put yourself to work, or not, and it’s a question of the values your work affirms or negates. Your logic merely sends artists up to Columbia (debt) and therefore back down to Chelsea (pay off debt), and leaves no room for anything but the “shred,” precisely, of autonomy you mention. All you are saying is that you spent a lot and now will sell a lot. Mere accounting . . . for what? I’m sure both of us can be accused of reductivism, but I still say, refuse the shred.

Two thousand four, by the way, happened to be the Chinese Year of the Monkey. This year, watch out for artist-roosters!