In his extensive writings, Judd describes his art as “specific objects,“ defined as “environmental” and “intrinsically more powerful” because of their relationship to “real space.”5 Having learned from and evolved so much of my practice from the environmental imaginations of artists of the 1960s and 1970s, I have an instinct to extrapolate these phrases, to recontextualize Judd’s specific language to figure outside of a narrow formalism, an art historical polemic, a history of land and conquest. I want to read “real space” not as saleable desert property—all site lines and light—but as inhabitable space, socially constructed again and again. But in Marfa, I found Judd’s “15 Untitled Works” in concrete obdurate and nearly impossible to move.
Concrete blocks, concrete poetry—I first came to art of the 1960s for the words. There were so many of them. They had the shape and heft of objecthood; they established the literal field of the page—inside and outside of the margin and the gutter—that relationship to “real space” that Judd heralded. But their power was always in their capacity for arrangement, which is to say, re-arrangement. They could mean something else, be taken up by another for a competing purpose.6 The same words could be used to communicate the opposite position. They could also be disappeared, erased, redacted—lost.
5 Ibid. “Specific Objects,” p. 139, 141
6 What is Marfa?— An art destination? A site for leisure travel? A ranching community? A border town? And, for whom is Marfa? There are obvious economics to these questions—just as there is an economics to the permanence of Judd’s one hundred aluminum boxes and the variability of Marfa Independent School District’s move from a five to four day school week in the fall of 2023. And in the economics, there is a problem of translation—or at least —a refusal— to interpret the facts otherwise.