101 Spring Street, Donald Jud d | Photograph by Elizabeth Felicella

101 Spring Street, Donald Judd | Photograph by Elizabeth Felicella

The given circumstances were very simple: the floors must be open; the right angle of windows on each floor must not be interrupted; and any changes must be compatible.
— Donald Judd

It was 1968 when Judd purchased a 5-storey cast-iron building at 101 Spring Street. Over the next 25 years, he would renovate the spaces floor by floor, adeptly, with the precision and curatorial eye so evident in his art, and with an immense understanding of the hand of the architect, Nicholas Whyte, who had laid the bones of the building.

Into the vast open spaces he placed objects of personal value, eclectic but also purposefully considered for the space: a 19th-century wood-burner, Aalvar Alto chairs, bend steel sculptures by his own hand. He replaced the windows with double glazing, to protect the art against the dangers of condensation, removed sprinklers, lined shelves with jars and plates as if the everyday utensils were themselves part of some larger art. 

He reflected on the process and place in a 1989 essay entitled, simply, 101 Spring Street, which was reproduced here in Places Journal in 2011. The sincerity and soft hand with which he discusses the project are revealing: the space and materials, rather than his actions upon them, are what give the project value. He does not cry out for attention, but seeks, continuously, to do right by the aesthetic, material and spatial practices available to him. 

As one of the first artists to set up in SoHo in 1968, Judd looked beyond the building, and became deeply involved in the urban politics of the place: co-founding Artists Against the Expressway, actively promoting the Artist-in-Residence destination which changed zoning laws to allow conversion of industrial spaces into live-work studios, and offering up the ground floor of 101 Spring Street for exhibitions, meetings, and performances.

All the energy and care that he projected outwards from his space at 101 Spring St has, some 20 years after his death, been quietly allowed to pour back in. In 2013 his children, Rainer and Flavin, completed their reworking of the building, with an even lighter hand than their father, to bring the building up to code and, in doing so, make it publicly accessible. 

The story of 101 Spring Street revolves around the lives of spaces, the interrelations of art, architecture, and the everyday. It is in the silences, the stillnesses of these great spaces that the value lies. The space is layered, and rich with occupation. But is also reveals something deeper about space, about the permanence of experience, and of how we might be able to capture aspects of a life, such as Judd's, in the way a space is formed, and filled up, and finally, in how it is allowed to breathe.

Everything from the first was intended to be thoroughly considered and to be permanent.
— Donald Judd


Charlotte Perriand in her studio in Montparnasse, ca. 1934.   Photo: Pierre Jeanneret, © 2010, ProLitteris, Zurich.

Charlotte Perriand in her studio in Montparnasse, ca. 1934.
Photo: Pierre Jeanneret, © 2010, ProLitteris, Zurich.

The extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living.
— Charlotte Perriand, 'L'Art de Vivre', 1981


There aren't many people who seem better placed to discuss an art of living than Charlotte Perriand, whose life of 96 years had such breadth, impact and inspiration that it manages to continue to sing even now, 15 years after its end.

It is somewhat of a frustration, then, that not only her work, but her character are continually positioned alongside the demanding and prestigious Le Corbusier. For me, Charlotte is more than an adjacency to Corb, or a 'woman designer'. She is a muse: a strong mind with an immense sense of self, a body with which she engages in rich experiences of the world, a soul with an uninhibited capacity for creative production. Historian Mary McLeod takes up Perriand's case in her stellar essay Perriand: Reflections of feminism and modern architecture, published in the Harvard Design Magazine (2004), where she calls for histories of modern architecture, such as those that include Perriand, to look beyond reductive comparisons, and to seek to understand the richness and complexities of how gender is constructed and challenged through design practices. 

Charlotte Perriand was woman of boundless design fluency, she was a master of translation, tirelessly working to transform her experiences of the world, through design, into visions of contemporary living. Architect, artist, traveler, designer, and urban planner, Perriand moved across scales, using her travel photography as a form of designerly-research, informing her projects. Her curiosity in the world around her seems to have been not only insatiable but also very precise: the cropping of her images revealing not only what she saw, but how she saw it. 

Looking at Jeanneret's portrait of Perriand, above, I find myself looking with her, having first taken in her bare shoulders, the pearls, the way she has scooped her hair from her neck. Together we look beyond the flowers, beyond the deep reveals of the window, towards what in the blur we can only imagine is some kind of horizon. If there is an art of living it must start, I think, with an art of seeing, which, in turn, is linked with an almost unnerving intimacy to an art of being. I like to think that these are secrets that Charlotte knew too, and that they gave her a power to transcend the reductive assumptions of gender, and to quietly get on with what was important to her in making a life. 


Perriand in her Studio

Perriand in her Studio


Hiroshi Sugimoto | Seascape:   Aegean Sea, Pillon,  1990.         via   c4gallery

Hiroshi Sugimoto | Seascape:   Aegean Sea, Pillon, 1990.        
via c4gallery


The minute gears mutely whir. To put your ear
Against it is to put your ear inside it.
It does not tick. It isn’t a heart.
It has no pulse. It isn’t a clock or a wrist.
Scrutiny can coax no secret from it.
There is no hearse with one flat tire
In endless circuit, headlights dispersed
In fog like sunset behind a veil.
A paving stone extends a grave through iron
Gate to a door at home. To knock
Your hand against it puts your hand inside it,
As in a cloud at night the pale moon
Gathers itself outside itself its own light
And glows dimly behind the dust that outshines it.
It has no heat. It isn’t the sun.
It isn’t uncertain. It does not think
About the sun or the distant balls of dirt
And ice that circle closer to the star
With each circuit done. Comet tails
Darkly flowing back as the horse leaps
Forward, straining against the catafalque
All November, predict disaster as grammar
Predicts breath, the need to breathe, or the mind
Must rest. It is its own edgeless disaster.
It is there as if it were not there. Vague
Repetitions haunt the circumference.
To walk out the door is to place your foot
On a stone worn away by another’s foot.
Rumor has it that the sun sends heat in form
Of sight. Watch the ice as it melts
For proof: water pools, darkens on a stone,
Becomes as a shadow on a stone,
A horse’s hoof as it rises off a stone,
Except it rises forever, and the shadow is gone.
Such processes turn the minute gears.
It is not a note in the margin. The margin is
Covered with snow. When the winter fog
Disperses a black horse stands on ice
And cannot move. It is as if a breathless song
Hovered like a veil in the air. The black
Horse’s breath spirals upward like smoke.
Pyre-smoke like a thumbprint as a cloud.
Similes sing mutely in it, likening the unlike.
Mourners name the peace they find and walk
Away. To step into it is to find it missing.
The footprints are before you as you go.
— Dan Beachy-Quick

Yet another of those beautiful seredipitous moments this morning when, having read and loved and re-discovered this poem three times, I read the accompanying interview at How a Poem Happens. Only then did I discover that 'the whole poem arose out of reading Levinas' - Levinas, of course, being one of the key foundational thinkers in my thesis.

Moreover, the poem seems intricately related to one of my own entitiled Palms which is long  wanting a revision; or perhaps a sister poem.

All that is to say: this poem's really got me. 


James Casebere: La Alberca, 2005/2006 Photo: courtesy Goetz Collection 

James Casebere: La Alberca, 2005/2006
Photo: courtesy Goetz Collection 


Those blessed structures plot and rhyme-
why are they no help to me now
i want to make
something imagined not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything i write
With the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot
lurid rapid garish grouped
heightened from life
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts.
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.
— Robert Lowell

A painter's vision is not a lens. Except, in the case of James Casebere, when it is.
Following this, it is relatively easy to say that his images are heightened from life, yet paralysed by fact. His images trounce the real, they are contaminated by fiction. Is it photo, is it painting? The illumination characteristic of his work is at its most ambiguous in La Alberca. Here, the combination of the abstract, shallow reflective pool of water melts all solidity, returning the physical to its liquid state. The source of illumination is not clear - we are contained in the gestural space.

To talk about La Alberca with Lowell's Epilogue hovering at the front of my mind directs me to a correlation between Vermeer and Casebere. I note that Vermeer's work nearly always contains a window - an explicit announcement of the how and why light enters. Casebere, conversely, is not concerned with the entry of light, but with the what the illumination allows.

But even this distinction is not as clear as it might appear. Both artists obsess over how light returns the eye to reality - both artists tremble to caress the light. For Vermeer, painting the everyday Milkmaid was a subject of both stark reality and highly institutionalised myth. His illumination works to bring together these two isolated views. For Casebere the same is true - light folds together the reality of space and the myth that physical material alone is form giving.

Vermeer, The Milkmaid

Vermeer, The Milkmaid

Casebere, The Flooded Hallway

Casebere, The Flooded Hallway




   Dawn/Water Poem, 1986. Ralph Hotere.


Dawn/Water Poem, 1986.
Ralph Hotere.

Language makes arrangements. These might be compared to the behaviour of water, an expression of energetic relations among molecules. There is activity at the meniscus where tensions arise from oppositions juxtaposed.

Understanding the singularity of the present moment, you invent a syntax with materials close to hand. A language evolves. Becoming skilled in it you can modify, rough it up and stretch it by experiment and exploration. Like this? Like this?

Whether canvas, timber, iron, steel, words or light, harmonies arise between materials. Meaning is spun. There are riches: rhyme, assonance, dissonance, melody, harmony, percussion, onomatopoeia and the mighty dimension of metaphor.

The painting puts the poem visually. Synaesthesia allows me to hear the voice in it, pick up nuances. Shapes shift behind the surface. In a certain light, at a certain angle it seems that the surface is permeable, that I have gone through it and look out from within my own reflection.
— from Dark Matter, Ralph Hotere and Language by Cilla McQueen

Language, space, syntax, material, the physical, the spoken, the written, and the felt.

Reflecting on the work of New Zealand artist Ralph Hotere, Cilla McQueen folds each of these elements into the others - searching for a way to describe the manner in which Hotere's work precedes the poem, rewrites the poem, and critiques the poem at once. Words become material for the artwork to be produces from, rhythm for the head-voice of viewers to replay, and their meaning becomes a dimension for the artwork to extend. 

Dawn/Water Poem, an example of such work, was a collaboration between Hotere and poet Bill Manhire. It becomes more than a collaboration -  a criticism, a use, and a production at once. In her reflections in Dark Matter, Ralph Hotere and Language, McQueen transitions the discussion back to language. A conversation between artists, across mediums, and through time exists.

The work is spatial - in many ways, the interplay of voices, thoughts and images defines a kind of artistic site. Its hard not to be drawn in, to want to take part, to want to make physical this place or to enquire as to the physicality(s) of it. From where did Manhire, Hotere and McQueen write, paint, write? And perhaps more interestingly, to where?


Frank Stella , New York, 1959  - Hollis Frampton

Frank Stella, New York, 1959 - Hollis Frampton

My first introduction to post-painterly abstract artist Frank Stella was when I was about 9 or 10. As part of one of those classic and formative childhood school projects, we were asked to research an artist and then to produce work 'in-the-style-of'. I can't remember why, or how I came across his work in that pre-internet era, but I chose Frank Stella.

There were paintings with titles like 'Zambesi', jarring colours, and minimalist geometries which folded over one another, turning the page into a three-dimensional surface. I thought it was wildly exciting. Until this stage in life, my favourite artist had been Claude Monet - so Stella was a revelation. 

Now, my favourite Stella works are all about the parallel lines, in particular those making the shift from the precise and colourful to the imprecise and tonal. In these large-scale works, Stella imparts a depth to the space between the lines, which in turn gives the lines a quality of hovering, or buzzing in space. The lines are journeying tail-lights, rays conceived by squinting at the stars, or the strangely orderly formations on the inside of my eyelids. Whatever they are, in these works Stella masterfully moves us from the minimal to the spatial - a transition with architectural overtones.

This October, the Whitney will present the most comprehensive retrospective of his work yet. If only I could get there.

Ileana Sonnabend ,   1963   Private collection 

Ileana Sonnabend1963
Private collection 

Zembesi  , 1959.

Zembesi, 1959.