Flavin Judd

Writer & Curator in Los Angeles

Illustration by William Godwin

July 19 2016

His namesake bears no introduction: it is the synthesis of two of the most original artists of the 21st century‚ his father‚ Donald‚ and Don’s good pal‚ Dan Flavin. Together with his sister Rainer‚ Flavin runs the Judd Foundation‚ which perhaps most famously acts as a steward for Don’s legacy in Marfa alongside the Chinati Foundation. The Judd Foundation’s New York City outpost is Flavin’s childhood home at 101 Spring Street‚ which was opened to the public as ‘permanent installation’ in 2013. Flavin has been hard at work on several shows and a book‚ and his profile in the art world is set to grow even more when a much-anticipated MoMA retrospective on Don’s canon opens in 2017.

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently I’m helping MoMA with the upcoming show‚ I’m writing a book and working on the exhibition I’ve curated for the the Zwirner Gallery. The book is about semiotics and the show is about Don’s works in COR-TEN steel. There’s more than that of course but that’s the short list. This fall‚ the show I curated of Don’s prints and furniture is opening at the Foundation’s building at 101 Spring Street.

Your snapshots are fantastic. Did you formally train as an artist yourself?

I think train is the wrong word. I think you discover what you like and what you don’t like and you try to replace what you don’t like with what you like. If what you like doesn’t exist then you make it and other people call that art or concepts or writing or other things.

I did study film and cinematography but that’s just the mechanics. I think the art in photos is in what you focus on‚ finding something that interests you. The photos for me are odd

because I’m not normally interested in the actual world‚ I’m interested in made world‚ creations. For photos (since I don’t stage anything) it’s about the reverse process‚ it’s about seeing some small detail that grabs you. A lot of the time‚ I couldn’t even say why something makes me want to take a photo‚ it just does. Writing is the opposite‚ it’s pure creation starting from nothing. It’s harder.

What do you make of the current‚ empty craze for small m minimalism? As of today‚ “minimal” has over 3.5 million Instagram hashtags‚ most of which are random items indifferently shot against white backgrounds.

I ignore all that stuff. Don didn’t like the term “minimalism” because he found it derogatory and I find it useless because it’s labeling things that are better dealt with on a case by case basis. Not all Italian food is pizza; calling anything minimalism is like calling Osso Bucco a pizza. It’s a statement from ignorance or just fashion thing‚ which is‚ as you said‚ empty.

On that note‚ do you ever worry that as both Dan’s and Don’s work increasingly enters the canon of pop culture its significance might be lost‚ or are you just happy that a new generation is so interested in it?

The culture eats artists for breakfast and I see it as my job‚ in the Foundation‚ to preserve Don’s art as he wanted it‚ on his terms. Doing that is hard enough. What the society and culture does with it after that is really beyond my control and I assume the worst. The art is constantly being debased so we try to do the reverse‚ to show the art at its best. It’s like fighting entropy—commercialism is the entropy of culture. Art should be art and when it’s used to sell shoes it just becomes pretty pictures of shoes.

Did you get on well with Dan Flavin? Was he something of an uncle to you?

Dan was wonderful to me as a kid‚ and yes‚ Don had a lot of friends‚ mostly artists and they were all pretty much who I considered to be family.

Do you collect contemporary art?

No. Maybe if I had an over-abundance of money I would but I’m not there yet…

What did it feel like to have your childhood home on Spring St. transformed into a museum? Does it still feel anything like it did when you lived there?

It still feels the same when it’s empty‚ when there are no visitors‚ but it has layers of hi-story and which layer it feels like really depends on what I’ve been thinking about. These are layers that are produced by different areas and parts of the building from different times. Where you grew up holds a lot of meaning to you and those never go away‚ they are always present and overlapping. It’s like wandering a ghost ship with the ghosts slipping in and out of view.

You get to choose the U.S. president next year. Who would it be?

The people of the country should be voting on all issues‚ let them make the decisions. They could vote by Instagram.