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Laumeier Sculpture Park completes $200,000 conservation project for Donald Judd's Untitled, 1984
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1984.

SANT LOUIS, MO.- Laumeier Sculpture Park announced the successful completion of its $200,000 conservation project for Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1984, located on the South Lawn at Laumeier. The two-year conservation project was made possible by a 2012 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for $100,000, with a 1:1 match by Laumeier. Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1984, consists of three open-ended cubes made of concrete panels, placed in a row for the viewer to look through like a tunnel. An additional concrete panel is placed vertically inside each cube at varying angles, calculated to change the viewer’s perception when looking through them. The square form appears frequently in Judd’s work and is considered a prime example of the conceptual interests of the Minimalist movement.

Phase I of the conservation project began with research and design for new concrete panels using an original panel deemed unstable for reuse, Gamma Ray technology and soil testing. Phase II involved the de-installation of the original artwork, new site preparation and restoration of the original panels deemed stable for reuse, followed by the pouring, curing and sandblasting of the new panels. Phase II culminated with the re-installation of the conserved artwork, featuring eight of the original panels and seven new concrete panels, after which the project fencing was removed and the artwork was officially re-opened for public viewing. Finally, Phase III consists of the execution of an ongoing maintenance routine by Laumeier staff. The “Judd Conservation Team,” under the leadership of Steve Colton, Conservator, Steve Colton Inc., Los Angeles, includes Nick Lang, Chief Preparator, and Liz Murphy, Collections Manager & Registrar, Laumeier Sculpture Park; Don Gerling, Operations Supervisor, St. Louis County Parks; G.S. & S. General Contractors; AEdifica Case Engineering; ResTech Division of Waddell Concrete; and Kara Kelpe, Ashley Kopp and Manda Remmen, former Laumeier Sculpture Park employees.

“The Judd Conservation Team faced challenges at virtually every step of the project as work progressed, and delays were to be expected,” said Colton. “With time running short, we were gifted a handful of mild-weather days this fall to complete the relatively uneventful re-installation. Old and new pieces of the artwork came together with rewarding ease, with only very minor adjustments needed. ‘Minimalist’ the artwork may be, but simple it definitely is not.”

Laumeier, in partnership with St. Louis County Parks, has provided continuous care to protect and preserve the structural and artistic integrity of Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1984, for its 300,000 annual visitors for nearly 30 years. “This project perfectly demonstrates the balance we must continually strike as object caretakers, between preserving an artist’s aesthetic and assuring the structural integrity of an artwork for future generations,” said Marilu Knode, Laumeier’s Executive Director. “The successful completion of this massive undertaking—the largest and most significant conservation project in Laumeier’s 38-year history, by far—is momentous, not only for Laumeier Sculpture Park, but also for all those involved with Judd’s legacy, and the entire field of public art.”

Donald Judd worked closely with concrete engineer Robert Kirk, Architectural Concrete Associates, Marble Falls, Texas, on the design and fabrication of Untitled, 1984, for its first exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. Following the close of this exhibition, Judd and the Max Protetch Gallery loaned the artwork to Laumeier for two years. Because the artwork would be exhibited outdoors for the first time, Judd designed a temporary foundation for the piece and sent Kirk to supervise the installation at Laumeier in 1985. His design “floated” the three concrete units on top of 8 x 8 foot timbers stacked 3 feet high on sand, with a hollow interior foundation below. Laumeier purchased the artwork from the artist for its Permanent Collection in 1988, and applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to reinstall the artwork on a more substantial foundation. Laumeier did not receive that grant, but took interim steps to stabilize the foundation working in partnership with St. Louis County Parks.

Ongoing conservation treatment plans and procedures, including a Condition Assessment and Proposal for Conservation Treatment in 1990, evolved over the next 25 years, with input from outside experts including Robert Kirk; Russell-Marti Conservation Services, St. Louis; the Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas; Francesca Esmay, Conservator, Object by Object Modern and Contemporary Art Conservation; Bettina Landgrebe, Conservator, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; and Steve Colton. Laumeier applied for another grant from the NEA in 2011, this time securing the necessary funds to carry out the massive conservation project beginning in late 2012.

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