One of Donald Judd’s concrete pieces in Marfa, Texas. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Laumeier Sculpture Park in Saint Louis, Missouri, has successfully completed a $200,000 conservation project for Donald Judd’s “Untitled” (1984). The two-year project was funded by a $100,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), with a 1:1 match by Laumeier. According to the NEA’s website, Art Works grants are reserved for projects that “are likely to prove transformative with the potential for meaningful change, whether in the development or enhancement of new or existing art forms, new approaches to the creation or presentation of art, or new ways of engaging the public with art; are distinctive, offering fresh insights and new value for their fields and/or the public through unconventional solutions; and have the potential to be shared and/or emulated, or are likely to lead to other advances in the field.”

Judd, one of the most significant American artists of the post-war period, is often regarded as a Minimalist -- a classification he denounced based on its generality. Judd departed from the traditional notions of representational sculpture and created works that explored the limits of form, material, color, and space. “Untitled” features a row of three open-ended cubes made of concrete panels, inviting the viewer to look through them like a tunnel. Partitions are placed vertically inside each cube at varying angles, calculated to change the viewer's perception when looking through them.

Originally created for an exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, Judd loaned “Untitled” to Laumeier for two years after the show closed. Since the work had never been exhibited outdoors, Judd designed a temporary foundation for the piece, which was installed at Laumeier in 1985. The sculpture park acquired the work from the artist for its permanent collection three years later. Laumeier subsequently applied for a grant from the NEA to reinstall the sculpture on a more substantial foundation, but was denied. Ultimately, the sculpture park partnered with Saint Louis County Parks to stabilize the work. Ongoing conservation treatment plans and procedures evolved over the next twenty-five years and in 2011, Laumeier finally secured an NEA grant to carry out a major conservation project, which launched in 2012.

Phase One of the conservation project began with research and design for new concrete panels using an original panel deemed unstable for use as a reference. Phase Two involved the de-installation of the work, the preparation of the new site, the restoration of the original panels okayed for reuse, and the pouring, curing, and sandblasting of the new panels. Phase Two culminated with the re-installation of the artwork, featuring eight of the original panels and seven new panels. Phase Three will entail the ongoing execution of routine maintenance by Laumerier staff.

Located on Laumeier’s South Lawn, “Untitled” sees about 300,000 visitors per year. According to a release from the sculpture park, Laumeier’s Executive Director, Marilu Knode, said, “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. 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.”