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PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN COLLECTION
There is a time-old proposition common among mystics and ancient philosophers that reality - the world of objects and of everyday appearances - is nothing more than an illusion. Buddhists and Hindus speak of this as the veil of Maya - an artificial screen of perceptual phenomena that masks a deeper and wider cosmic consciousness - and there is much in Islamic thinking that posits a similar understanding of 'reality'.
In the twentieth century the discovery by modern physicists that all matter of every kind exists only as a shifting field of energised sub-atomic particles strongly reinforced these ancient ideas of reality being nothing more than an artificial construction or projection of the mind and gave them a new impetus. In the world of art such realisations led increasingly to the development of abstraction and to the propagation of an abstract language of form.
In contrast, with their pure concentrations of material and geometric form, Donald Judd's work seems to exist at the opposite end of the spectrum from these concepts of reality as illusion. Like surveyor's marking posts mapping out the perceptual landscape of objective reality, Donald Judd's art explores and investigates the material nature of the world we live in using only the simplest geometric forms and the purest industrial materials as its tools. Employing only the most basic and essential elements - space, material and colour - in a single or repeated progression of form and with each industrially manufactured precisely according to strict mathematical guidelines - Judd's art creates a paradox. It is in fact so simple, so pure and so perfect that, in spite of itself, it often seems to belong to another world.
Expressing both the precision and the abstraction of mathematical logic in material form, Judd's art seems to calibrate the limits of material reality like some extraterrestrial slide-rule or theodolite. Material measurements of real space, Judd's 'Stacks' and 'Progressions' map out the logic and dimensions of phenomenal reality with such apparent precision and accuracy that they themselves seem to exist on its borderline. As a consequence they often seem to take on a transcendent and an almost ethereal quality - one that lends these coldly rational works a fascinating aura of mystery and magic. Judd's fellow artist Robert Smithson famously called this quality in Judd's work an 'uncanny materiality'; something that Judd firmly rejected. Wary of the unaccountability of all mysticism, Judd argued that any sense of the 'uncanny' in his work came from his works' articulation of what he called the usually 'invisible' elements of art, 'space and colour'. By making these basic elements an equal and essential part of his work, as in the transparent coloured Plexiglas of his 'Stacks' or the rich and sensual combination of different coloured metals in his series of 'Progressions' for example, Judd believed that he was making visible an entire area of art-making that had previously been hidden.
He was, essentially, however, bringing the subtlety of his painter's eye to bear on the establishment of an innate sense of harmony and balance emanating from within the strict logic of his three-dimensional works. Critical of all collective terms when applied to art, Judd roundly rejected any notion of 'mysticism' in his work in the same way that he rejected the term 'Minimalism - the movement with which his work is most often associated. In taking the cold undistilled material logic of his work to its mechanical and mathematical extreme however, Judd created a unique and enduringly powerful body of work that seems to exist in an impossible but nonetheless fascinating place. Halfway between reality and vision, between the tangible and the transcendent, Judd's work captivates because it seems to articulate the meeting point between two incompatible extremes.