Donald Judd (1928-1994)
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Donald Judd (1928-1994)

Untitled, 1988 (88-27 MENZIKEN)

Donald Judd (1928-1994)
Untitled, 1988 (88-27 MENZIKEN)
stamped with signature, inscription, number and date 'DONALD JUDD 88.27 A-F AG MENZIKEN JUDD SC.22019' (on the reverse of each unit)
anodized aluminium and green Plexiglas
6 units; each: 19¾ x 39 3/8 x 19¾in. (50 x 100 x 50cm.)
Executed in 1988
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990.
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Lot Essay

The pared-down form of the cube provided a constant source of inspiration for Donald Judd from the mid-1960s to the end of his life. It served as an emblem for his interest in sculpture as a resolute object in space, eschewing any symbolic connotations in favour of foregrounding the fundamental relationship between the material presence of the work and the viewer. Credited with unleashing the Minimalist movement that revolutionised art in the sixties (although he insistently denied such a role), Judd forged an independent path for the next three decades that led him to profound explorations of space, form, and colour, as demonstrated in works such as Untitled of 1988.

Executed in two of Judd's signature materials, anodised aluminium and Plexiglas, Untitled transforms these industrial substances through a sensuous play of surface and structure. The series of six shallow rectangular boxes, arranged in a vertical row upon the wall, are constructed with a precision that alludes to the industrial source of the material while at the same time dissolving it into pure aesthetic form. Judd was less interested in the industrial connotations of his chosen mediums than their structural integrity, the tensile strength and smooth satin-like finish of the anodised aluminium and the rich colouration of the highly reflective Plexiglas. As Judd explained in the early 1990s, 'I am very interested in the materials as materials, for themselves, for the quality they have, and retaining that quality, not losing it' (Donald Judd, exh. cat., London 2004, p. 91). To this end, he worked closely with aluminium manufacturers in Switzerland from the late 1980s to hone his desired effect. Untitled plays upon the contrast between the obdurate materiality of the sculpture, with its crisply delineated aluminium units, and the open space within and between each of these protruding elements. Attached to the wall, these metal structures seem to float rather than obey gravity. Their interstitial spaces become almost as palpable as the material components of the sculpture, due to the careful equilibrium that Judd constructs between open and closed form.

The visual rhythms of Untitled are particularly significant in engaging the viewer. The six units which protrude from the wall are subject to a constantly shifting internal arrangement within their uniform boundaries. Although there are certain constants -each rectangular box includes a solid aluminium plane that forms a square, while an equal increment of green Plexiglas is revealed at the back of the box - none of the six units is identical. The location of the aluminium planes shifts from being placed close to the viewer, suggesting a solid volume, to being placed at the back of the volume, creating a void. In this mode of construction, Judd moves away from the strict seriality that characterises his early works, while still eschewing traditional notions of composition and a priori systems in favour of a non-hierarchical relationship of elements. Yet Judd's seemingly exclusive focus on the objecthood of his sculpture can also give way to other associations. Indeed, in its persistent play with concealing and revealing, Judd's sculpture also hints at the idea of revelation.

Colour plays a central role in Untitled, as the smooth neutrality of the aluminium and the chromatic saturation of the shiny green Plexiglas create a striking contrast. The play of light and shadow on the contrasting surfaces and shifting volumes furthers this effect, resulting in an effulgent glow that seems to radiate from within the depths of the sculpture. Judd was interested in colour as an integral part of sculpture, and was fascinated by Plexiglas for its brilliant, intrinsic colour. Having begun his career as a painter, he remained fascinated by the fundamental power of colour. As Judd explained, 'Itten wrote in 1916: 'Form is also colour. Without colour there is no form. Form and colour are one.' It never occurred to me to make three-dimensional work without colour. I took Itten's premise, which I had not read, for granted' (ibid, p. 155). Judd had a marked preference for bold colours, particularly red, and his works such as Untitled often have an effect that can be likened to colour field painting in three-dimensional form. The use of green in Untitled is unusual in Judd's oeuvre, although he uses it to great effect here. Its rich emerald tone at once suggests nature, but also an otherworldly atmosphere. Its chromatic intensity is only barely contained by the metal structure that surrounds it, upon which it casts a residual glow.

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