When I was around fifteen or sixteen my family briefly relocated to West Palm Beach Florida. I drew and painted fervently but my work was mostly comprised of bad landscapes and copies of photographs of my guitar heroes. Every weekend I would watch Bob Ross and Bill Alexander on PBS bust out their half hour paintings and I thought that was what art was. No doubt I was aware of people like Picasso and Van Gogh but they were far off my radar.
One day my mother, knowing that I had an interest in “art”, decided that we should go check out the local art museum. Upon entering the lobby of the museum we were confronted with a black wall that had white lines drawn in different patterns laid out in a grid. I didn’t really know what to make of this and I wasn’t even sure if this was the “art” part yet. I found out years later that this piece was by the conceptual artist Sol Lewitt, an artist I came to admire greatly.
Leaving the lobby to enter the main galleries of the museum we were presented with a diverse body of work ranging from Clifford Still, Frank Stella and Alfred Jensen, again, I didn’t really get to know who these people were until much later. For an impressionable teen who knew nothing of the art world, this was a new and exciting experience. This wasn’t art that I necessarily understood but I could see it was different than what I was accustomed to and it spoke to me in a way that “happy little trees” didn’t.
After walking around a bit I noticed this green metal box with a plexiglass top sitting in the middle of the floor. I walked up to it and placed my hands on top in order to bend over to see what was inside. The guard immediately came over and said, “Please don’t touch the artwork!” What? There’s not even anything in this box! What artwork are you talking about? Startled and embarrassed I carefully backed away from this perplexing object.
I’ve loved Donald Judd’s work ever since.
After leaving the museum, I took the pamphlet home with me and kept it in the top drawer of my dresser for a long time. I remember taking it out to look at it from time to time. I remember being especially drawn to a Clifford Still painting reproduced in it which perhaps was the entry point to my relationship with Abstract Expressionism. Some teenage boys keep dirty magazines in the dresser drawers, I kept museum literature.
As often happens in life, this random, accidental moment proved to be a profoundly formative experience. I often don’t understand why I create the things I do, perhaps in some way, I have been trying to capture the excitement and mystery of that day over twenty years ago.