The stringent aesthetics that Donald Judd devised over the course of his career are epitomized by the flawless construction of Untitled, in Judd’s signature wall-mounted box is flooded with subtle red light, bisected by an oblique copper plane. Using a deliberately limited set of materials, Judd has created the quintessential minimalist object, one that breaks free from centuries of artistic tradition to redefine and reactivate the relationship between the art object, its viewer, and the surrounding space. This articulation of space was Judd’s primary concern, which he outlined in his seminal essay “Specific Objects” of 1965. In this work, the delicate interplay of the sensuous copper surface, with its mirror-like sheen and golden warmth, along with the intensity of the red Plexiglas, creates an ephemeral, cloudlike dispersion of color and light, making Untitled not only a “specific object,” but an exquisite one.
Created in 1981, Untitled benefits from Judd’s expertise that he honed and perfected over the preceding two decades, resulting in ever more complex alterations to the divided, rectangular
box. This allowed for a more liberal exploration of color and the use of sumptuous materials, like copper, in ever greater permutations. Here, the austerity of Judd’s espoused visual rhetoric allows the intrinsic properties of his materials to emerge, making for a harmony of sensuous texture, color and light.
While earlier objects might be composed of wood or galvanized metal, the present work is fabricated from a more precious material, and the sensuous copper surface of the austere rectangular box subtly reflects the interior sheet of red Plexiglas with a mirror-like sheen. The warmth of the copper surface has an uncanny effect, inviting the viewer’s touch while remaining resolutely austere in its rigid, geometric structure. The reddish-orange surface accentuates the redness of the Plexiglas, making for an even more lush, warm and effusive red that seeps beyond the edges of its design to float with an ethereal, atmospheric quality. The interior of the copper unit, though defined by its distinct geometry as dictated by Judd’s rigid visual aesthetics, becomes a nebulous, temporary arena, in which the volume dissolves, edges soften, and the red Plexiglas aura reflects and bounces off the copper surface. It’s as if the artist has distilled the very essence of the color red itself, then allowed it to roam freely inside its exquisite copper theatre.
From the beginning, red has been Judd’s most significant color, a personal and emblematic hue that he felt had very specific connotations. His deliberately limited palette has focused on red ever since, and only allowed complex interactions of multiple colors after 1984. The artist explained, “Color, like material, is what art is made from. It alone is not art... I like the quality of the Cadmium Red Light. [It has] the right value for a three dimensional object. If you paint something black or any dark color, you can’t tell what its edges are like. If you paint it white, it seems small and purist. And red, other than a gray of that value, seems the only color that really makes an object sharp and defines its contours and angles” (D. Judd, “Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular” in D. Elgar, ed., Donald Judd: Colorist, exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. 114).
Judd routinely worked with fabricators in the realization of his objects, which adhered to a rigorous set of specifications in the pursuit of a perfectly-formed object. By the 1970s and 1980s, Judd had increased the scale, variety and complexity of his creations, which demanded ever greater skill in the fabrication of each piece. In this case, the Bernstein Brothers in Long Island City, Queens, worked in partnership with Judd to eliminate all trace of the artist’s hand. Judd selected copper as opposed to the typical aluminum, and its gentle surface sheen involves the surrounding space by means of reflection, an aspect that Judd must have appreciated, since he intended his objects as participants in an activated or articulated space.
In the end, the delicate interplay of Donald Judd’s materials in Untitled results from the restrained austerity of the artist’s distinct minimalist rhetoric that he managed to perfect over the course of nearly two decades. Judd allows the intrinsic properties of the color red to emerge, which he heightens by placing it within a meter-length copper box. In doing so, he places a sheet of red Plexiglas along the interior face of the sculpture, which is reflected by the interior faces of the copper sides. Given its intrinsically reddish-orange hue, the copper acts to accentuate the redness of the red Plexiglas sheet. Mirrored in the soft warmth of the surrounding copper walls, the red hue is intensified, making for a brighter, richer color experience, echoing the artist’s own words: “Red is a sensation. It happens—here and now. ... When we sense the red of a surface, the experience is direct and constitutes an emotion in itself. To sense red is to be in an emotional state.” (D. Judd, quoted in R. Shiff, “Sensuous Thoughts,” Donald Judd: The Multicolored Works, New Haven, 2014, p. 117) Indeed, the concentrated field of this ethereal and intangible “redness” pools and seeps beyond the borders of the copper plane, becoming liquefied and cloud-like. The effect is uncanny, with a sensation that borders on magic.