• Lauretta Vinciarelli, “Water enclosure in landscape,” 1986, watercolor on paper. - courtesy the Judd Foundation

Lauretta Vinciarelli
Judd Foundation, New York City
March 30 – July 20, 2019

Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail.

— Henri-Frédéric Amiel

If identity is formed through thought and experience, then the drawings and watercolors featured in the Judd Foundation’s recent exhibition, “Lauretta Vinciarelli,” could be considered autobiographical snapshots in the life of artist and architect Lauretta Vinciarelli (1943–2011). The exhibit showcases 23 works produced from 1976 to 1986, a period marking the professional collaboration — as well as romantic partnership — between Vinciarelli and renowned artist Donald Judd (1928–1994). “Lauretta Vinciarelli is a figure in Judd’s life, and in the general story about Judd that we don’t often hear much about, although she’s quite an important and interesting figure in Judd’s thinking about architecture,” says Caitlyn Murray, Judd Foundation’s director of archives and programs. “We wanted to take the time to learn more about who she was as an architect, professor, and thinker.” 

Two key events transpired to make the exhibition possible. In 2012, Vinciarelli’s husband, Peter Rowe, donated a collection of drawings and watercolors related to Marfa, which, combined with a collection of drawings purchased by Judd that were already part of the foundation’s holdings, provided the content for the exhibition. Secondly, the restoration of 101 Spring Street in New York City — which hosts the Judd Foundation’s only temporary exhibition space — allowed for the development of an exhibition program.

Italian-born Vinciarelli was a trailblazer for women in architecture, earning her doctorate in architecture and urban planning from the Università di Roma La Sapienza in 1971. She moved to New York City in 1969 and was the only woman to be given a solo show through Peter Eisenman’s Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies. She was also an academic, teaching at the Pratt Institute, the City College of New York, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rice University, and Columbia, where she was also one of the first women to teach studio courses.

Vinciarelli studied common building typologies that persist through time, systematically analyzing them through her method of “drawing as research,” as demonstrated in her drawings and watercolors produced in the 1970s and ’80s. The courtyard typology in particular assumed a fundamental role in Vinciarelli’s studies, dominating her research and drawings of that period. It was central to her education in Rome and a focus of her academic work in the housing studio at Columbia University. 

Scholar Rebecca Seifert’s recent dissertation on Vinciarelli’s work, which included a chapter on her collaboration with Judd, provided additional insight into the development of Vinciarelli’s work during this time. Specifically, it looked at Vinciarelli’s transatlantic move from Rome to New York to West Texas and how her architectural thinking was developed through her education in Rome and later manifested in her work for Marfa. Murray, who also served as curator for the exhibition, elaborates: “When I was organizing the exhibition, I really wanted to show works that gave insight into this transatlantic typological approach — one of the walls focusing on the Italian Puglia project in southern Italy and the rest of the drawings focusing on Marfa and this kind of abstracted watercolor desert — like Marfa, but moving into more abstract shapes and abstracted landscapes.”

The exhibition begins with the Puglia project (1975–1977), a series commissioned by the Puglia Regional Administration in Southern Italy and later purchased by Judd. The drawings present a series of iterative typological studies of gardens, dissecting the garden into its constituent elements — such as fences, pergolas, and passages — and studying variations on their gridded assembly. The gardens are designed as modules that can be recombined to form a variety of spatial fabrics. Many elements from the Puglia project can be found in La Mansana de Chinati, or “The Block,” Judd’s home and studio in Marfa.

The exhibition continues with four drawings of the hangar and open and enclosed courthouse (1980), in which Vinciarelli explored variations on the hangar and courtyard typologies, noting that they could be combined and altered to suit the climate and context of Southwest Texas. Vinciarelli chose Marfa as the site for these case studies because of its small size, its mountainous desert location, and the clarity of its architectural tradition, which juxtaposes traditional Texas pitch-roofed houses with Mexican court houses, domestic buildings with industrial hangars. “Project for a Productive Garden in an Urban Center in South West Texas” (1979), a series of drawings purchased by Judd for a garden at his home, the Walker House, further expands the exhibition’s body of Marfa-based work. Though the project was unrealized, many elements of the proposal can be seen in structural elements that Judd realized at other sites. 

Corresponding with the end of Judd and Vinciarelli’s formal collaboration, the exhibition concludes with a series of perspectival watercolors produced in 1986 that features three variations on the same water enclosure situated in a spare desert landscape. Though a departure in style and intent from the exhibition’s architectonic studies, the paintings share the same iterative analytical approach present in her other works — the pool, coupled with a minimalist post-and-lintel structure, reminiscent of the architecture of ancient Rome; the pool elevated on a plinth; and the pool surrounded by a bilaterally symmetrical grove of trees. 

The series marks a pivotal point in Vinciarelli’s career, where she transitioned from drawing as research to an artistic exploration of landscape, form, and mood. Seifert explains that the paintings “start to get a little more surreal. They move from the strict architectonic type of drawing into something more evocative.” This transition was evident not only in her selection of subject matter, but also in materials, moving from hard materials, like colored pencil and ink on mylar, to softer materials, such as Derwent colored pencils (a brand typically used by fine artists rather than architects) and watercolors on board. 

As has happened with many other women who have collaborated with male colleagues, Vinciarelli’s contributions have been largely overshadowed by Judd’s work, and often they are entirely unrecognized by the greater design community. This show brings to light the beauty, rigor, and deeply influential work of a great architect, artist, and thinker. “One of the reasons this exhibition is so important is that we wanted to highlight Lauretta’s work on its own as a really interesting approach to architecture and thinking about space,” Murray says. “But we also wanted to better understand Judd and their work together, or ways in which his work was influenced by Lauretta’s thinking and her deep knowledge of Roman architectural forms. We were really happy to present these works and to be responsible stewards of it. For me, it’s about bringing it out into the world for people to learn about it, study, and enjoy.”

Anastasia Calhoun, Assoc. AIA, works at Overland Partners in San Antonio. 

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