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Donald Judd
Holdings (14)
7 sculptures, 1 multiple, 5 edition prints/proofs, 1 painting

Wikipedia About Donald Judd

Donald Clarence Judd (June 3, 1928 – February 12, 1994) was an American artist associated with minimalism (a term he nonetheless stridently disavowed). In his work, Judd sought autonomy and clarity for the constructed object and the space created by it, ultimately achieving a rigorously democratic presentation without compositional hierarchy. It created an outpouring of seemingly effervescent works that defied the term “minimalism”. Nevertheless, he is generally considered the leading international exponent of “minimalism,” and its most important theoretician through such seminal writings such as “Specific Objects” (1964). Full Wikipedia Article

essay Donald Judd, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Donald Judd’s name is synonymous with Minimalism. Though he fiercely contested the identification throughout his career, Judd nevertheless became the standard against which the diversity of Minimalist practice was measured. In one recent study, the history of Minimalism is divided into “First Encounters” (1959–1963), “High Minimalism” (1964–1967), and “Canonization” (1967–1979)1 —phases that may well describe the developmental trajectory of Judd’s work. With each one-person exhibition in the 1960s—at the Green Gallery in 1963 and the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966—Judd’s work seemed to pole-vault to a higher level of rigor and refinement. Already in 1968, he was given a mid-career survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, a feat that signified a triumph not only for the artist but also, in a way, for Minimalist art as a whole. In the catalogue, exhibition curator William C. Agee characterized Judd’s work as “one of the most original and stunning accomplishments of the 1960s” and declared that “the breadth of Judd’s accomplishment lies … not as the center of a movement, nor as part of an ideological position, but as a series of unique works of high and individual quality.”2 What is striking about this assertion is the absence of the appellation “Minimal” or “Minimalism” in the essay, which by then had stuck, notwithstanding Judd’s and other artists’ distaste for it.

In the same year, Gregory Battcock, the energetic, quick-study editor at Dutton, Co., came out with Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, which collected critical essays and articles on Minimalism. As much as it attempted to define the emergent movement and, by doing so, contributed to its canonization, Battcock’s selection of writings and accompanying images, put together like a report by an embedded journalist, was a mixed-bag affair. In the introduction to the 1995 reprint of the anthology, Anne M. Wagner writes: “Battcock missed the mark as much as he hit it, if sniffing out the historically significant is taken to be the best description of his goal.”3 For Wagner, this odd mixture means that “minimal art was evidently, in 1968, a loose and capacious enough term.”4 The canonization of Minimalism was, then, far from a secure process. In fact, it was a paradoxical phenomenon—one in which its practitioners and cynics came to agree on its ascendancy, while there was no one opinion on its critical purchase. What mattered for Judd about that particularly equivocal art-historical turning point was that his being in the center of it mattered very little.

Battcock’s anthology missed the mark by omitting Judd’s “Specific Objects” (1965), the essay that remains a theoretical keystone of Minimalism. “Specific Objects” starts with a daring declaration: “Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture.”5 The statement points to a path Judd was paving for himself, somewhere between the two mediums that were privileged in modernism and had become increasingly exhausted of innovative possibilities. Judd’s main objection to painting, figurative or abstract, was its illusionism, the technique of suggesting another space on the flat surface and redemptive qualities beyond the pictorial. Figurative representation, together with metaphor and allegory in abstraction, was suspect: Judd asserted that “real space” was “more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” Although “real space” is “three dimensions,” it does not mean that sculpture automatically resolves the problems of painting. In fact, most contemporary sculpture was composed of parts and turned aesthetic experience into one about the relationship of parts to the whole. For Judd, singleness or wholeness was a key quality he sought in his three-dimensional specific objects.

Between 1966 and 1971, concurrent with the period of “High Minimalism” segueing into “Canonization,” Judd participated in three group shows at the Walker Art Center. His works in the Walker’s collection, which range in date from 1965 to 1971, demonstrate the progressive condensation of his approach. By the time of the exhibition Eight Sculptors: The Ambiguous Image (1966), he had already started using synthetic, industrial materials—the list of which would eventually include aluminum, stainless steel, cold- and hot-rolled steel, galvanized iron, plexiglass, and brass—and was having his works professionally fabricated. Untitled (1965), a galvanized iron “progression” (the artist’s term) sprayed in red, is a horizontal beam with four round-ended “bull nose” projections, whose widths grow in size, from left to right, in 11/2-inch increments, interspersed by three cubic recessions that correspondingly decrease in size. Three years later, the show 14 Sculptors: The Industrial Edge included a number of artists working in the vein of Minimalism,6 and one of the works Judd exhibited was untitled (1968), a rectangular box sitting directly on the floor. It is pierced longitudinally through the center, and the four sides are constructed of blue plexiglass. The two lateral open ends, shaped like an empty picture frame, are finished in stainless steel. On the one hand, the piece embodies the oft-cited quip made by Judd’s contemporary, painter Frank Stella, “What you see is what you see.” These words suggest how Minimalist work forecloses interpretive potential with a strictly self-referential materiality and, more specifically, may well describe the way in which form is content and form is structure in Judd’s work. On the other hand, Judd liked colored plexiglass because it “has a hard, single surface and the color is embedded in the material. In some cases, it also gives access to the interior.”7

Judd was invited again to show in Works for New Spaces, the first exhibition in the Walker’s new Edward Larrabee Barnes–designed building that opened in 1971. The intersecting cubes of Barnes’ building mutually resonated with Judd’s contribution to the exhibition, untitled (1971), which consists of six 48-inch-square units of blue anodized aluminum, spaced at one-foot intervals. The sides of each box are recessed by 31/2 inches, revealing the thickness of the material. The artist was more interested in the volume, not mass, of the form and the subtle, meticulous prestidigitation he effected in the form made it “less arbitrary, more rigorous.”8 The notion of seriality, which he had started exploring through repeated identical forms/volumes, is also evident in untitled (1969/1982). It is composed of ten boxes, each 6-by-27-by-24 inches, that are arrayed in a single vertical stack. The height of each box is the same as the space between it and the next one, and the first stack is placed at the same height from the floor. This regularity governing the arrangement of volumes and negative spaces turns the spaces into active components of the work. In a typically matter-of-fact manner, Judd described the stacks as follows: “I don’t like any dramatic quality or incident or anything archaic. The boxes just hung on the wall in a practical manner.”9 And the order it creates is “not rationalistic and underlying but is simply order, like that of continuity, one thing after another.”10

The Minimalists’ “one-thing-after-another” seriality has been, at times, construed too reductively as mimicking the logic of industrial production. But Judd’s apparently depersonalized method and his disinclination toward composition and representation, metaphor and allegory can be seen as an antidote to the decentering and alienating experience of modernity. In a similar vein, the bright colors and metallic surfaces of his objects point to “a profound and deeply felt relationship between his work and the spaces and surfaces of the modern city.”11 To “deeply felt” add “deeply thought,” as Judd did not believe in the separation of feeling and thought. The aesthetic experience of Judd’s art is, then, neither transcendental nor intellectualized, but one that envelops both, reflecting something more complete and cogent about our own times.

  1. See James Meyer, ed., Minimalism (London: Phaidon Press, 2000).

  2. William C. Agee, Don Judd, exh. cat. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1968), 8.

  3. Anne M. Wagner, “Reading Minimal Art,” in Gregory Battcock, ed., Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 7.

  4. Ibid., 8.

  5. Judd, “Specific Objects,” Arts Yearbook 8 (1965), reprinted in Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959–1975 (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design; New York: New York University Press, 1975), 181.

  6. Robert Morris, Ronald Bladen, and Robert Grosvenor, along with Judd, were in the benchmark exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum, New York, in spring 1966. Also in the Walker exhibition were Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, and Ellsworth Kelly.

  7. Judd, in John Coplans, “An Interview with Donald Judd,” Artforum 9, no. 10 (June 1971): 45.

  8. Ibid., 50.

  9. Quoted in Marianne Stockebrand, “Catalogue,” in Nicholas Serota, ed., Donald Judd, exh. cat. (London: Tate Publishing, 2004), 191.

  10. The sentence is taken from a description of Stella’s painting in Judd, “Specific Objects,” 184.

  11. David Batchelor, “Everything as Colour,” in Serota, Donald Judd, 75.

Chong, Doryun. “Donald Judd.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center