The Frontal Cortex

Art or Wal-Mart?

Here’s a good test of your critical acumen. This site has a quiz comparing the priceless designs of Donald Judd against cheap furniture from Ikea and Wal-Mart. It’s often surprisingly hard to tell the two apart, although I take this less as an indictment of Judd (who I’ve always admired) and more as an affirmation of capitalism, which has a knack for turning masterpieces into mass-produced kitsch. (Nobody does this better than Target. Adorno is rolling over in his grave.) Here is the one item that I got wrong on the quiz:


via VSL


  1. #1 cg
    February 7, 2008

    Wow. That is kind of tough. Embarrassed to say that I recognized most of the cheap furniture though. Tells you a lot about where my things come from.

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    February 7, 2008

    Neat quiz.

    I didn’t recognize any of this stuff, so I picked based on what seemed more practical (that would be “cheap furniture”) and got 75 percent. Though afterwards I realized that the first item, a bookshelf, which I called “cheap furniture,” was terribly impractical since about half the shelf space was unusable. If I had followed my rule I would have only missed two items.

  3. #3 Jonah
    February 7, 2008

    That’s an excellent heuristic, Dave. When I wasn’t sure, I tended to look for the backgrounds that seemed more museum-like.

  4. #4 David Dobbs
    February 7, 2008

    Couldn’t resist this one. Man, I did lousy — 67 percent. BUt I figure I am still much MUCH smarter than whoever paid $65K for an uncomfortable daybed made of KNOTTY PINE. Yow.

  5. #5 Left_Wing_Fox
    February 7, 2008

    83% I got both the beds wrong.

  6. #6 NJ
    February 7, 2008

    25%. And damned proud of it!

  7. #7 Bob Ramsey
    February 7, 2008

    Heh, I used the same heuristic as Dave Munger and only missed one, the day bed. Anything that looked impractical and useless for it purported job I marked as art. The cheap stuff had to actually be useful and do a job or no one would buy it.

  8. #8 Emily
    February 7, 2008

    100% but I cheated. Ignore the furniture and just pick based on whether the picture appears to have been taken in a museum or not.

  9. #9 peggy
    February 7, 2008

    I got just one wrong using nothing but my innate sense of style. Just kidding! Actually, I looked at all of them first and then went back and answered the quiz. I found there was some indefinable “Judd” essence that made certain ones look like the work of the same designer. I’ll need to look again and see if I can identify the particulars of this signature.
    However, the big surprise for me, a die-hard Target and IKEA shopper, is how attractive some of the Wal-Mart stuff was!

  10. #10 laurelin
    February 7, 2008

    Uh, all the cheap furniture except for the table at the end was on white backgrounds- i.e. taken from online retail websites. The others were obviously from his studio or in a gallery. Geez, easy 🙂

  11. #11 Rachael
    February 7, 2008

    92%, but the funny thing was that when I got to the picture of the one you said you got wrong, I quickly thought Donald Judd, but then I totally second guessed myself and changed it to cheap. Woops.

    I think the only reason I got >50% is because I’m partway through “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. I haven’t finished the book yet but I would definitely recommend reading it. The topic seems right up the alley of anyway who is interested in the kinds of things in this blog. The premise of the book is that we can make very accurate (albeit unconscious) judgments quickly without knowing why the judgments are accurate. So I decided to try out the premise – by not allowing myself to think about why the furniture looked cheap or expensive and just clicking immediately, within 2-3 seconds – and that seems to have worked.

    Honestly, I’m usually I’m awful at this stuff, so maybe Gladwell’s got me convinced.

  12. #12 random guy
    February 8, 2008

    I got a 100%, although i attribute the success to too many visits to wally world. Also it was fairly easy to tell what was art, the ones that had superfluous parts. Cheap “trendy” furniture is extreamly utilitarian. So if I was stuck I just thought about weather or not it would be a pain in the ass to assemble at home.

  13. #13 jay french
    February 8, 2008

    Scored 75%, but must admit that the quality of the photos helped. For example, an expensive Judd bed would never have been dressed with the pillows as in the photo!

  14. #14 Alan
    February 10, 2008

    92%, with no conscious strong interest in design, bespeaking, as in many other cases, a lot of time in IKEA and Wal-Mart. Stupidly, what I missed was the last table; it just seemed too straightforward to be IKEA or Wal-Mart.

  15. #15 m. jaune
    February 10, 2008

    Don’t know about Wal-Mart (there’s none of that in the corner of Europe where I live), but Ikea stuff is usually very heavy designed, meaning they�ve got a lot of designers (famous (usually the more pricey stuff) and not famous) working on the furniture (either on the funcionality/aesthetics side or on the manufacturing/assembling of it). And there�s also the swedish tradition (don’t if it is even called school) of good/awesome/sleek design. Anyway, while one (Donald Judd) hand builds a one time piece (most likely with good (pricey?) materials and solid construction) the other one(s) mass produce pieces of design furniture (with cheap materials) where the assemblage is left to you (hand build just the same…). That is, the value is in the scarcity of one item versus the availability of the other (ok! there’s also the signature on it).
    About critical judgement, if you look at the photos as a whole the pieces of Donald Judd bear some resemblance (the very straight lines, the slight assimetry), while others do stand out as not being part of that group (like the bookcase and the stool, both with curved lines).
    Anyway, score 100%, without knowing who da heck is Donald Judd (got check this…), and usually don’t spend my weekends on the nearest Ikea store.

  16. #16 cheap furniture
    November 17, 2009

    I am used to take a quiz for this from others. My score is just only 67%!!!! Wow too low compared to others, but it make me so happy to know the answer.

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