Estate of the art (Part 1): Rainer Judd on her father, Amercian minimalist Donald Judd

When a great artist dies, those left behind are faced with complicated choices. What will happen to their lifetime of works? To their studio spaces? And what about the more intangible aspects of their legacy? While some heirs hire experts, others take it upon themselves to keep their dear-departed’s house in order. According to the kids and grandkids of these world-famous artists, there’s a certain measure of pride involved in taking care of a loved-one’s artistic legacy, despite the difficulty in escaping from from its far-reaching shadow.

The full feature was originally published in The Second Best edition of the magazine.

Rainer and her brother Flavin are custodians of Donald Judd’s works, as well as large tranches of the the Texan town of Marfa he dedicated to them.

I spent a lot of time with my father; in his studio, travelling. Just living. I felt completely welcome in all his studio spaces. I would go there after school to talk about what’s for dinner, about a book or about friends. From a very young age I was into film, though my dad might have liked for my brother and me to be scientists, perhaps because he had an interest in the study of geology and the natural sciences, and was extremely interested in astronomy. He always encouraged intellectual curiosity; reading, and dialogue. But mainly he just tried to support my independence. He didn’t feel knowledgeable about film so we would usually talk about art, and then I would translate it for myself. I’ve always been very curious about what he thought. He also taught me that you can only make artwork for yourself and you can’t worry about everybody else. The whole idea of progressions, an important element in his work, affected me from quite a young age. The idea of finding balance in breaking something into segments, creating rhythm using math, interested me a lot and I took that over into my films. I had a poster in my room of a massive plywood piece he built in the early ’80s. It’s so beautiful and the pattern so intricate, and I used to tease him that one day I would figure out what the code was. He listened to a lot of opera and classical music and I felt there were math and rhythm, variance and space in his art, just like in music. I got the sense that this piece was his version of a symphony.

Rainer Judd at the Judd Foundation, 101 Spring Street, NYC on February 2, 2013

Rainer Judd at the Judd Foundation, 101 Spring Street, NYC on February 2, 2013

He gave me so much. So when he died it was out of the question to just walk away from everything. And not just because he named us in his will as executors. It was about giving back, and about love. Not only love for our father, but also love for the places we grew up in; we had a chance to save them. Although his will had existed since 1977, I didn’t really know I was in it. He never told us. The will said that he wanted to create a foundation to save his work and the spaces he made for them, but it didn’t say anything about how this could be achieved financially. Nothing was planned out. That was a nut for us to crack after he passed. His death came as quite a surprise and we hadn’t had any conversations about how he wanted to be remembered. But he did talk to me about the land. It was important to him that the land in West Texas would not be sub-divided or overgrazed. There just had been an art crash and things weren’t looking too good. For a long time, the restoration of his building in SoHo seemed impossible. But one of the most important things I’ve learned is not to be too quick to make judgements, that patience can really bring about some great accomplishments. From the beginning, my brother and I had advisors and helpers. I don’t know if I would have taken it on alone. The main goal of the foundation is to preserve all the spaces and the second goal is public access; to find ways to connect the public with his work. I work three days a week for the foundation so I still have enough space for my own creative work. This is the biggest challenge for me, personally: keeping enough time for my own work. And as somebody with an artistic spirit, there’s a limit to how many meetings I can go to or how many discussions about budgets I can attend. I don’t have that much involvement with the fine art world, where I am perhaps only known as somebody involved with the Judd foundation. It’s extremely important for me to keep doing my own things and I’ve always absolutely felt like my own person in the film world. My name doesn’t mean anything there.