PRINT May 2013


the Judd Foundation’s 101 Spring Street

View of restored second floor, 101 Spring Street, New York, 2013. Photo: Josh White. Art: © Ad Reinhardt; Donald Judd Furniture™ © Judd Foundation.


SOME TWENTY YEARS after purchasing 101 Spring Street in November 1968, Donald Judd recalled thinking at the time that “the building should be repaired and basically not changed. It is a nineteenth-century building.” This attitude marked Judd as a collector of architecture, as it were, for he acquired buildings not only to use them but also to draw attention to their historical value and preserve their material and spatial qualities. Whether authored designs (such as 101 Spring Street, which was completed by architect Nicholas Whyte in 1870) or vernacular structures (such as the bank building and ranches the artist owned and used in and around Marfa, Texas), Judd selected buildings just as he would collect furniture or art—with the same discerning eye, conceptual nuance, and formal respect—and invested in them the same resources, thought, and care.

But by the time the artist died in 1994, 101 Spring Street was no longer just a nineteenth-century building. Far from it: Amid SoHo’s transformation from a center of art into one of commerce, Judd’s appropriation of Whyte’s cast-iron commercial building (which had originally been designed to house a single business, with separate floors for what Judd deduced had been sales and fabrication of textiles, and which he had organized into separate but connected floors for exhibiting, working, living, and sleeping) had turned into a historical artifact of two eras of the neighborhood’s history. It was not only the last single-use building remaining from SoHo’s manufacturing days but also a rare survivor of the homes-cum-studios that had been common in the area in the late ’60s and ’70s.

Moreover, as Judd became one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, the building became the originary object of his unusual collection of buildings and a model for his considered combination of “leaving the building alone” and making it “useful for living and working.” Indeed, for Judd working and collecting were always intertwined, the acts of maintaining or curating the buildings and objects he acquired influenced other dimensions of his production. 101 Spring Street thus embodies the ways in which his design practice literally informed his art practice: The various joints that Judd-the-designer developed between the interior walls and floors on three of the building’s levels became precedents for the connected planes in Judd-the-artist’s one hundred untitled works in milled aluminum, made between 1982 and 1986 and displayed in two converted artillery sheds at his Chinati Foundation in Marfa. Whyte’s building also became the locus for Judd’s permanent installation of works of art, both his own and those of others, in dialogue with architecture and furniture.

We have hardly begun to understand the towering importance of Judd’s architecture collection and installation practices, and the fundamental interrelations between art and design he explored in his work. The restoration and reopening of 101 Spring Street are significant steps to that end, due to the commendable vision of the Judd Foundation. Repairing but not changing the building was the privilege of the artist when he lived and worked there, while restoring and offering public access to Judd’s original vision today has required thoughtful negotiation of the need to repair but also to change.

Christine Mehring is an associate professor of art history at the University of Chicago.