Standing ten feet tall, Untitled (Bernstein 88-25) is a monument of positive and negative space that finds its ultimate form through a unified interplay of light, shadow and color. A regal work from 1988, Donald Judd's violet stack Untitled is an elegant statement of the artist's conceptual aims to establish space and color as the foremost elements in art. Using industrial materials and pared-down geometric forms, Judd developed his new approach to sculpture in the 1960s through his seminal treatise 'Specific Objects' published in 1965. That same year he developed his celebrated stack, a form he would continue to explore throughout his career. Judd conceived his stack as a vertical object constructed of alternating units of identical dimensions hung one above the other and interspersed with negative space of equal size. This form incorporated space a fundamental material in Judd's practice, alongside color and form. Indeed the stack presented 'material that can be picked up and sold' alongside 'space and color. Two of the main aspects of art [that] are invisible' (D. Judd, 'Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular', in Donald Judd, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 2004, p. 145). Made in the wake of lifelong friend and fellow Minimalist sculptor Dan Flavin's florescent-tube tribute to 'Don Judd, The Colorist' in 1987, Untitled can be seen as an artistic reply to Flavin's recognition of color as a powerful characteristic in Judd's practice. Here in this stack, Judd presents ten units of violet anodized aluminum, which in their chromatic dazzle evoke an air of mysticism in spite of their everyday materiality.
Whilst Judd's use of color was defiantly non-representational, purple does possess a long and noble tradition within art history as an indicator of power and authority. Purple was one of the first colors used in prehistoric art and several Neolithic sites in Europe show evidence of manganese and hematite powder having been used to draw and paint animals on the walls of their caves. During the Roman Empire, purple togas were worn by 'generals in their triumph' and the Emperor Nero forbade anyone but himself from wearing the color, a crime punishable by death. The tradition continues today particularly in the Catholic Church, and among European royalty who often choose to wear purple robes during their coronation ceremonies.
Like Flavin's proclivity for the ready-made tubes of florescent light in industry standard colors, Judd too considered it important to work with materials of his own time. In his seminal treatise, 'Specific Objects', Judd noted that objects conceived by his contemporaries, involve new materials, either recent inventions or things not used before in art. Almost nothing has been done with industrial techniques and, because of the cost, probably won't be for some time (D. Judd, 'Specific Objects', Arts Yearbook 8, 1965). In terms of these industrial materials, Judd was primarily drawn to those that could retain their specific appearance throughout his transformative process. In particular, anodized aluminum appealed to him as a 'self-colored' material-one whose coloring is fundamentally integral to its substance. He first started using aluminum in 1963, a material which only recently became industrially viable in the twentieth century once aluminum alloys could be manufactured more economically. With no precedent in art history, aluminum appealed to Judd for its ability to act as a tabula rasa of sorts, presenting its unadorned materiality for his aesthetic considerations. When exploring his spatial methodology, Judd appreciated that these new materials were "not as accessible as oil on canvas" and that they were not obviously art, which was exactly what he found so appealing (D. Judd, ibid.). In Untitled, the surface of the anodized aluminum retains the attributes expected of an industrial metal while also radiating warmth from the violet color.
Drawn to the vivid qualities of commercial paint, Judd preferred anodized aluminum for its ability to take on pure chromatic color in its very facture. The conflation of industrial material and aestheticism allows Judd's stack to take on an unearthly beauty that is both separate from and rooted in the material's utilitarian use. Judd's use of the rich violet coloring here only serves to augment these qualities, allowing the anodized aluminum to gain further autonomy from its industrial definitions. Yet, Judd ultimately dissolves the discrete elements of color and material in to a cohesive whole, articulating a spectral beauty that visually activates the space around the stack. As Judd noted, "most art, including mine, involves several things at once, none developed toward exclusivity. Art is generally more specific than it used to be; its visible aspects are more important; but usually there is a comparative balance between the few main aspects" (D. Judd, 'Aspects of Flavin's Work: Exhibition Review 1969', in Complete Writings: 1959-1975, New York 1975, p. 199).
Beyond color and material, space is the most dominant aspect of his practice. Indeed the artist believed that "actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface" (D. Judd, 'Specific Objects', op. cit.). The artist defined both the space between and around his stack through the ability of light to emit and reflect color. Untitled is a work that typifies this interest in the immaterial manifestation of color and light in Judd's practice. By restricting himself to a strict lexicon of stereometric forms, Judd enables materiality and color to evoke an astonishing range of moods and experiences. Diffusive light reflects off the colored planes of Untitled, cascading onto the supporting wall and staining the space between. With light reflecting off surfaces of pure chromatic color, edges and corners appear to be lit from within. By creating color planes that can seemingly capture and emit light, the surfaces become mirror-like, allowing light to reflect infinitely on to forms above and below. With space, form and color informing and complimenting the structural makeup of Judd's stack, "what lingers on is almost a motionless apparition-of surface and color only, and reflected light, glow, shadows. That is, I believe, when a piece becomes real-and beautiful" (D. Judd, quoted in Donald Judd, exh. cat., Pace Wildenstein, New York, 2004, p. 8).