‘It’s not comfortable’: How Donald Judd’s art and furniture teach Hong Kong artist the secret to staying fresh

Untitled (1962) is a free-standing sculpture produced entirely by Donald Judd, the high priest of 20th-century Minimalist art and a prolific furniture designer.

I attended the residency program he established in 1986 (2021). They ask you to submit a proposal about why you want to come to Marfa, and to be honest, I didn’t write anything about Donald Judd in the proposal.

I prefer extreme weather. There are not many residential projects in the desert. I’m fascinated by the border between the United States and Mexico and the meteorological border where moist Gulf air meets dry air from the west. I was attracted to hostile environments.

Untitled (1962) by Donald Judd.

Typically they have 600 to 900 applicants and then select 4 to 6. Since my proposal had nothing to do with minimalism, I doubted they would choose me. If I had to choose a label for myself, I would choose maximalism.

Going there was very important for me to understand Minimalist art personally – I got to live in the middle of his art collection. Then I understood why he was important.

What’s really crazy to me is – why do we artists have to install our work every few months? It doesn’t make economic sense. This is where his works are permanently housed.

His persistence was definitely a key. He succeeded in convincing the Dia Art Foundation to give him money to purchase 340 acres (1.4 km2) of land. Locals thought he was some kind of cult leader. But it’s crazy that he managed to do that.

To become a better artist, you should always be willing to challenge yourself and try something less comfortable

Huang Jieyi

The impression he gave me was that if you want to be a good artist, you have to have a vision. Maybe not many people would believe you or agree with you, but he persevered. It made me think, “This is him—who do I want to be?”

His influence on me was not to convey a certain aesthetic element to me; This is a larger question about how I view my practice and what kind of artist I want to be in society.

This was his first free-standing sculpture before he became famous. I’m also drawn to his furniture. When he first moved to Marfa with his two children, he had to make his own furniture.

There are some in military barracks (the Chinati Foundation is located on the site of a former army base that housed art and visiting artists). Sometimes I sit on it working and think, “Oh my gosh, this is uncomfortable.”

I thought a lot about what Judd said: He thinks you work better when your chair is uncomfortable. If you’re comfortable, you’re not challenging yourself enough or creating anything new.

The furniture reminded me again of the kind of practice I wanted to do. To become a better artist, you should always be willing to challenge yourself and try something less comfortable.

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