This work is a large, portrait-orientated rectangular painting executed on a standard eight by four foot sheet of plywood. A text made up of bold capital letters runs across its surface in horizontal rows that go right up to the board’s edges, separating some words over two lines. The text reads ‘WHEN DONALD JUDD COMES TO OUR PLACE HE HAS SUPER BREW. AT HIS WE GET CHEEPO TITAN’. The letters are set against a white background and are mostly painted in orange with white outlines and green shadows. However, three characters reverse the orange and green and three are painted in blue. Significant signs of over-painting can be seen along the painting’s perimeters, and a mixture of rusty nail heads, panel pins and Polyfilla appear through its surface where the plywood has been attached to two wooden battens, which brace it from behind.
When Donald Judd Comes to our Place... was made by the British artist Bob and Roberta Smith in London in 1997. He painted the background in white gloss paint and produced individually cut stencils for the letters. The letters were then drawn onto the plywood using a wax pencil and filled in with Bollom’s traditional British signwriting paint, using a long-handled, straight-headed Whistler Swan signwriting brush. Designed to be used quickly while painting up a ladder, Bollom’s paint is heavily pigmented and only requires a single coat. Consequently, the letters in this painting look flat and opaque.
The painting’s fictional text refers to the well-known minimal sculptor Donald Judd (1928–1994) and suggests, in a tone of disappointment, that this major figure of modern American art is somebody who might buy and consume low-quality beer. In doing so it draws upon common representations of Judd as a macho artist who was known for drinking in bars. Smith has stated that, in making this work, he was ‘kind of undermining that idea … of the hero artist, but also kind of admiring his achievements’ (Smith 2008, p.8). Indeed, the painting’s direct, straightforward presentation could suggest a debt to Judd and other minimal artists who championed the use of extremely simple forms in their work during the 1960s.
In adopting the materials and style of signwriting for his paintings, Smith draws upon the traditions of folk art and craft, rather than ‘high’ art. His reference to cheap brands of beer and use of inexpensive, everyday materials like plywood also challenges the idea of art as a refined pursuit. The intentional ordinariness of this painting is even emphasised by the very name of its author: Bob and Roberta Smith is the pseudonym of British artist Patrick Brill. Brill claims that he devised this twofold artistic alter ego in order to create a more egalitarian platform for art making. Combining the name of his sister Roberta with two names which have historically been very common in the UK, ‘Bob’ and ‘Smith’, Brill playfully presents his works as the products of a purposefully ordinary male and female persona. This unusual move is also characteristic of Brill’s witty, irreverent approach to art. He has stated that the characteristics of his work – ‘like not to be a perfectionist and just getting the wood from the timber yard and just getting the colours out of the tin – that seems to be somehow part of the humour I think’ (Smith 2008, p.6).
When Donald Judd Comes to Our Place… is the last in a series of text-based paintings that were all made using stencils. After his 1997 solo exhibition Don’t Hate Sculpt, where this work was originally shown, Smith altered his approach, adopting the more complicated techniques of a professional signwriter, which involve painting the works upright and drawing the letters freehand.
Bob and Roberta Smith, Don’t Hate Sculpt, exhibition catalogue, Chisenhale Gallery, London 1997, reproduced p.1.
Bob and Roberta Smith, interview with Patricia Smithen and Andrew Wilson, 3 March 2008, Tate Conservation file, pp.1–14.
Bob and Roberta Smith, I Should be in Charge, London 2011.
Supported by Christie’s.