by Len Lear
Tom Judd, 64, an acclaimed artist whose work is currently on exhibit through Dec. 16 at Mt. Airy Contemporary, 25 W. Mt. Airy Ave., had his work accepted into the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) when he was 25, which is a miracle on par with being asked to play center field for the Phillies right after graduation from high school.
How could such a thing possibly happen to Judd, who grew up in Salt Lake City but came to the Philadelphia College of Art to study with Rafael Ferrer because “I loved his art and his personality, and I decided that was a good reason to attend the school where he taught. Hence, I started at PCA that fall, 1973.”
In 1978, when Judd was 25 and just three years out of art school, he was having no luck trying to get any local galleries interested in his work. ”So I decided to go to the top,” he explained last week. “I called Anne cold, with no introduction. (Ed. Note: Anne d’Harnoncourt was the PMA director from 1982 to 2008.) I’m not sure how I managed to get past her gatekeepers. I think someone thought I said Don Judd instead of Tom Judd. (Ed. Note: Donald Judd, 1928-1994, was a prominent American artist associated with minimalism.)
“At any rate, once I got her on the phone, I convinced her that she really must see my work. She agreed to see me and invited me to bring some work to the museum for her to look at. I presented my ‘portfolio’ to her in the coatroom at the west entrance to the museum.
“After a brief look, she graciously offered to show my work to Ann Percy, who was the curator of drawing and prints at the museum. Six months later Ann Percy called me and wanted to visit my studio with Frank Goodyear, who was then President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Art.
“They were putting together a show called ‘Contemporary Drawing: Philadelphia.’ I ended up being included in that show, and the museum bought a piece out of the show. At 25, having never been represented by a gallery, I was now in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”
But Judd has had his share of bad luck as well. For example, he fell off a ladder while painting his house on Nov. 27, 2011. He suffered a severe compound fracture of the ankle and almost lost a foot. “I had six different surgeries,” he said, “and spent six weeks in the hospital over a year’s time. I was on crutches for a year. I had to move my studio to my house during that time. I got a lot done. It was an amazing time. Horrible but amazing.”
Judd was only 8 years old when he realized “that art was going to be the way I survived this life. I was struggling with every thing else. Art was my respite, my place to make my mark. I always loved it, and it was who I was.”
After his miracle experience with PMA, Judd went on to exhibit his work in distinguished commercial galleries beginning with his first solo exhibit at Eric Makler Gallery in Philadelphia in 1980. Judd was soon recognized in New York City, including Monique Knowlton and Coe Kerr Gallery. In 1984 he was given a solo exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and had work purchased for their permanent collection.
In 1990, Judd had a 10-year retrospect at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. The show also traveled to the Salt Lake Art Center the following year. In 2009, Judd joined forces with curator and gallery owner Allen Sheppard to produce “Evidence of a Collected Past.” This exhibition was staged at the Globe Dye Works, an alternative art space in Philadelphia, and consisted of a 20-year retrospective of Judd’s works.
Judd is a collage artist but very much a painter. “I think in paint. I paint quickly so as to catch something unexplainable and surprising. I like constructions and installations and things that create environments that the viewer can walk into and experience. I love the mystery of painting.”
Tom’s own favorite artists are Phillip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Willem De Kooning, David Hockney, James Rosenquist, Phillip Guston, Morandi, Bob Kulicke and Jim Shaw, among others.
In his spare time Tom loves to take photos (he hopes to exhibit his photos some day), hang out with his family and friends and sing. “My wife has a great voice, and we occasionally sing together. It all started with those Mormon hymns and the Everly Brothers.”
What is Tom’s biggest pet peeve? “Our President. I hope we survive him.”
Tom can be reached through his website, www.tomjuddart.com. More information about the exhibit can be found at 267-270-2787 or mountairycontemporary.com