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

Untitled (Bernstein 93-1)

Donald Judd (1928-1994)
Untitled (Bernstein 93-1)
stamped 'JO JUDD BERNSTEIN BROS. INC. ? 93-1' (on the reverse of each element)
brass and green Plexiglas
ten elements - each: 9 x 40 x 31 in. (22.9 x 101.6 x 78.7 cm.)
overall: 180 x 40 x 31 in. (457.2 x 101.6 x 78.7 cm.)
(9)Executed in 1993.
Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1993
Further details
Soaring over the viewer, Untitled’s ten rectangles of brass and Plexiglas impose their authoritative structure into the space of the gallery. The green stacked rectangles executed with industrial precision typify Judd’s commitment to clarity of form through elegant repetition. While the pattern of object, space, object, space, repeated ten times up the wall, is contained within its own self-designated area, the green and gold Plexiglas form reflects its surroundings and opens up the dialogue with the viewer and initiates him or her inside the work.

Judd’s use of the industrially produced rectangle, unchanged between subsequent iterations, reflects his desire to remove the referential and subjective from his work. The crisp and simple lines of the boxes produce the notion of order and symmetry. The stacks are literal building blocks of the logical and mathematically based world. The regularity with which the positive and negative spaces intersect with each other further emphasizes Judd’s occupation with repetition and linear logic.

Contemporaneously, Sol LeWitt also sought to liberate art from the confines of the traditional frame. His geometric grid hypnotically challenges the viewer’s construction of space. LeWitt, like Judd, constructs structures derived from the grid. The three dimensional grid of the natural world permeates both Judd and LeWitt’s work as the antithesis to the Abstract Expressionism that dominated the art world in the decades preceding their groundbreaking work. Unlike Jackson Pollock whose free forming canvases are entirely of the artist, both Judd and LeWitt separate themselves from the execution of the work by framing their constructions entirely on the grid.
Judd’s desire to liberate Minimalism from the pedestal of art history culminates in the highly regulated and precise interlacing of space and mass cantilevered on the wall exemplified in his stacks. The present lot suspends itself from the wall without partition or pedestal from its surroundings. In 1965 Judd wrote: “The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is on or inside of it” (D. Judd, opus cit, 1965, p. 207). By embracing the rectangular form in its entirety, he liberated the artist and viewer from the traditional two dimensional designated space of Art.

In his 1993 essay, “Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular” Judd emphasizes that “[m]aterial, space, and color are the main aspects of visual art” (D. Judd, quoted by D. Elgar (ed.), Donald Judd Colorist, 2000, p. 79). Material is the aspect of the work that can be exchanged, while the true integrity of each work lies in its space and color. Space and color in art, he argues, are both recent discoveries, pioneered both through his work and that of Richard Serra. Serra, as well as Judd, emphasizes the importance and value of space and the spatial experience of the viewer. Previously, space was the domain of architects whose lofty cathedrals demonstrated sacredness to the visitor. More contemporarily, architects of the 20th century designed infinitely repeated geometric blocks of buildings in urban centers like New York, where Judd worked. These buildings were designed with space at the forefront of the designer’s mind, with color as a secondary pastiche applied to building facades as an afterthought. Judd, in parting from this division of space and color, incorporates the spatial understanding of architecture, but emphasizes his insistence on the importance of color as an integral and defining aspect of each work.

Color, linked inseparably from space, is paramount in Judd’s work. Unlike the two-dimensional compositions of the Western European Renaissance, in which color was used to designate foreground and background through shading, Judd’s work is bathed in a single color. Color, rather than being used to designate space, is paired equally with it. “The discussion of color,” Judd argues, “is greater than the discussion of space, and unlike the missing particularities of space, it describes to redundancy the particularities of color” (ibid, p. 91). Like Rothko, Judd explores the amplification of color through structure and scale to overwhelm the viewer and produce a specific, total experience.

Contemporaneous with Judd’s examination of color within the context of Minimalism, Dan Flavin’s work combined the industrial precision of mechanically produced fluorescent lights with the evolving theories on color, light and the gallery. Like Judd, Flavin’s work challenged the spectator within the familiar space of the gallery and imposed the color forcefully into the visage of the viewer. Both artists gave paramount importance to defining color in their work. Flavin further highlighted Judd’s importance on color by dedicating his 1987 exhibition “to Don Judd, Colorist.” Flavin recognized and publically emphasized Judd’s contribution to the field of colorism in the context of 20th century Minimalism.

Throughout his writings Judd emphasizes the dual importance of color and geometry. While seemingly industrial and impersonal, the work is intrinsically linked with the natural world. The serene juxtaposition of the shimmering gold and reflecting green presents the dichotomy between the organic and manufactured. Just as Judd continuously grapples with the man-made, the natural and physical world is very much a part of his working method. He emphasizes the designation of the space and in turn creates a garden in which the work and the viewer can occupy and compete for the same dimension. The garden which he creates through his stacks both incorporates the reflected reality of its surroundings and insists on its own autonomy as a sacred space.

The importance of light is especially evident in Judd’s later stacks. Initially, his vertical stack compositions were a series of impenetrable monolithic blocks of varying types of opaque industrial materials. Later, however, with the addition of Plexiglas to his working method, light was able to pass through each stack, further emphasizing pacing of vertical space by blurring the line between the positive and negative of each composition. With the further evolution of colored Plexiglas, as in the present lot, Judd is able to carry the color beyond its physical limitations and into the negative space between each block.

The present lot was conceived in the year preceding Judd’s death and reflects the culmination of his working ideals. It emanates both a precious, jewel-like glow with the proliferation of light through its Plexiglas stacks and further emphasizes this lustrous materiality with the use of striking gold bands to articulate the vertical dimensions. The green and gold is homage both to the natural and hyper-industrialized world.

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Kevie Yang
Kevie Yang

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