Donald Judd's Untitled, 1968 (DSS 120) is an icon of 20th century sculpture, and one of the artists most important formative works. Judd's approach to sculpture was truly revolutionary, using industrial materials and pared-down geometric forms that equally stressed the physical structure and the space around it. Resolutely anti-illusionistic, his sculpture used abstraction to explore issues of sensation and perception. The radical new approach to sculpture that Judd developed in the 1960s was one that he would continue to explore for the rest of his long career, and his new paradigm of sculpture would inspire diverse artistic responses by countless other contemporary artists. Untitled, 1968 (DSS 120) is a superb example of Judds seminal group of works known as stacks, which he began in 1965, and of which this is the fourth such work in this form and arrangement. This monumental work is composed of ten rectangular units of stainless steel and colored Plexiglas. The first work was made using galvanized iron in the forty-inch format as solid boxes.
As is characteristic of Judd, he employs the most austerely simple geometric forms of rectangular boxes to create an incredibly complex and nuanced composition that significantly rejects any notions of traditional compositional hierarchy, which he condemned as hopelessly 'relational.' Cantilevering the boxes to the wall in a precise vertical line, they seem to float in space, defying the sense of gravity that anchors traditional sculpture to the pedestal. In relation to this tradition of verticality in Western sculpture and its manifestation in the work of his contemporaries, Judd remarked, "I like David Smiths work mostly, but I dislike all vertical gestural sculpture" (D. Judd quoted in Don Judd, J. Coplans, ed., Pasadena, 1971, pp. 36-37).
Moreover, the empty spaces between each unit become vital parts of the sculpture itself, almost palpable to the beholder, reversing expectations of sculpture as simply positive space or material form. By engaging negative space as a dynamic constituent of sculptural form, Judd also draws attention to the viewers role in activating the work, making their physical awareness of the space around them integral to their experience of the sculpture. The architectural space is also engaged in his stacks, as they are intended to have intervals between the floor and ceiling that are equal to the intervals in the work itself, thus engaging the surrounding architecture in the very composition of the sculpture.
From 1965 until 1968, Judd made only seven stacks, three galvanized iron in the forty-inch format, all of which are in museum collections. Only later did he introduce the format and arrangement of the twenty-seven-inch stacks. He preferred to employ what he called 'self-colored' materials, which are materials whose colors are naturally integral to their substance, such as stainless steel, copper, brass, and Plexiglass. Incorporating these two materials, the present lot is only the fourth example of this form and arrangement. The clarity and solidity of these hard-edged geometric forms is made more complicated by the translucent Plexiglas interiors. The bright orange Plexi contrasts dramatically with the grey stainless steel, a powerful example of the 'self-colored' materials he used, enhancing the work's spatial complexity. The saturated color Judd favored, which is exemplified in this striking orange shade, played a central role in invoking the sense of the Gestalt unity of his sculptures.
In addition to his new treatment of space in sculpture, Judd's choice of industrially-manufactured materials and his manner of execution were also radically progressive. His interest in appropriating industrial materials unites him in an artistic lineage with artists such as Picasso (who famously appropriated a bicycle seat and handlebars to create a bulls head), or Duchamp, who used ready-made industrial products to question the basis of artistic authorship. Judd, in fact, owned one of Duchamps ready-mades, one of his shovels. Like Duchamp, Judd embraced the paradigm of industrial fabrication, removing the importance of the artist's personal touch and relocating the act of artistic agency within a conceptual framework. Judd had his sculptures executed by industrial fabricators, using distinctly modern industrial materials such as stainless steel, galvanized iron, and Plexiglas. Yet he also dramatically exploited the aesthetic potential of these manufactured materials, playing the smooth opaque surface of steel off of the glossy Plexiglass, in a manner that recalls Brancusi's masterful contrasts of rough and polished surfaces. Judd draws attention to the integrity of his industrial materials, and emphasizes their inherent physical properties as a central aspect of the composition.
There is an active contrast between the rigorous, almost hermetic, containment of the stainless steel boxes and the Plexiglass interiors that seem to dissolve into light. These radiantly hued interiors seem paradoxically more expansive than their rigid steel exteriors. The obdurate materiality of the boxes' geometric forms is seemingly dematerialized in these luminescent orange interiors, which are subject to a constant play of light and shadow, both within the boxes and in cast colored shadows on the walls. Judds carefully honed abstract composition is indeed heavily influenced by his formative experience in his early career as a painter, and the use of bold individual colors would remain a signature motif that would characterize his subsequent works. "A crucial element of Judds approach to sculpture," remarked the critic John Coplans, "is the rejection of all forms of illusionism or of any device that represents, symbolizes, or acts to deter or prevent the direct ordering of the viewers perceptions other than by the sculpture itself and its ambient situation" (J. Coplans quoted in Don Judd, J. Coplans ed., Pasadena, 1971, p. 17).