Saturday, January 19, 2013

Vintage Minimalism

All these photos were taken in a single medium-sized gallery at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Donald Judd's structure of stacked steel units (Untitled, 1973) is almost always on display. But the red-orange Donald Judd painting (Untitled, 1962) is a fairly rare sight. This made me feel like a bird watcher glimpsing some almost unknown species. Judd (who died in 1994 at age 65) prepared the painting surface with sand. In 1962 he was still executing his own work with his own hands in the time-consecrated way. By the seventies he had made his breakthrough – he designed numerous series of these open-ended metal boxes, for example, and determined how they should be installed, but had them manufactured by an industrial foundry, thus dispensing with any claim to craftsmanship and resting his entire artistic contribution on conception.  

The turquoise blue construction at top with wires dangling off the painted board was created by Eva Hesse in 1965. Called Top Spot, it is on loan to the Museum from a private collection. Works by Eva Hesse are sadly scarce, her career cut short by mortal illness at the age of 34 in 1970. All the greater, then, the pleasure at this chance to see a completely new (to me) piece from her exiguous body of work. SFMOMA owns and frequently displays two Eva Hesse sculptures (I photographed them here some while back). They were both in the room on Friday afternoon when I was there, along with Top Spot. The one that looks like fishing nets with weights in them is Untitled or Not Yet, 1966.  The rectangular molded chambers of wax is Sans II, 1968. When I first saw these objects several years ago, I was indifferent or thought them gimmicky, but over time their power and authenticity gained my grudging esteem. Like Emma regarding Mr. Knightley, my esteem gradually grew to include warmer emotions also.