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Sculpture Gets A $200,000 Facelift At Laumeier

Donald Judd's Untitled, 1984 recently underwent a three stage conservation process to keep presentation in line with the artist's wishes.
Kevin J. Miyazaki/Courtesy of Laumeier Sculpture Garden

Famed minimalist artist Donald Judd’s sculpture at the Laumeier Sculpture Garden just got a $200,000 facelift.

“People see things outside and think it’s just like a car sitting outside on their driveway, but a car sitting outside will show a lot of damage and weather wearing and so on and so forth,” said Executive Director Marilu Knode.

The sculpture, called Untitled, 1984, consists of three massive cubes assembled from cement panels. Two hundred thousand dollars may seem like a lot of money to preserve cement but the process is intensive. The conservation process consisted of three primary steps; building a concrete slab to bury beneath the cement cubes, repairing some cement panels, and fabricating new panels.

The artist intended the concrete base to provide support and ensure the illusion that the cubes were resting lightly on the landscape, not sinking into it, as would happen over time without the base. The stone used in the concrete came from a quarry that has since closed. To complete repairs in line with Judd’s original intention the garden’s team drilled out a core sample, had it analyzed, and tracked down another source.

“That’s the drama of trying to conserve something and maintain the standards, the simplicity, and the purity of Judd’s vision,” according to Knode.

This research and analysis will contribute to better understanding of Judd’s work at the time. During the construction Judd experimented with different consistencies and characteristics of cement but didn’t keep in depth notes about his work. Knode said the lack of plans left Laumeier a little in he dark when the project began.

“There’s a great deal of unknown because he didn’t record them effectively or because he changed them while he was doing it,” said Knode.

Additionally, the conservation effort was necessary to reduce bowing and replace hardware to ensure the work’s presentation was in line with the artist’s initial desires.

Judd was born in Excelsior Springs, Mo., in 1923 and rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s as one of the most innovative sculptors of the minimalist movement. According to Knode, Laumeier may be the first institution to attempt this type of conservation effort on one of Judd’s works. Knode says the project may have a broader implication for preserving Judd’s work in the future.

“We’ll of course be sharing our discoveries with folks in the field and with the Judd Foundation as well so this becomes part of the record of conservation on Donald Judd’s work,” said Knope.

The conservation effort was completed with a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and $100,000 provided by Laumeier.