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


Donald Judd (1928-1994)
stamped 'JUDD JO BERNSTEIN BROS. INC. 2-6-75' (on the interior)
red anodized aluminum
5 x 25 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (12.7 x 64.7 x 22.2 cm.)
Executed in 1975.
The artist
Private collection, Sweden
Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
The Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1982

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

“Material, space and color are the main aspects of visual art. Everyone knows that there is material that can be picked up and sold, but no one sees space and color…The integrity of visual art is not seen.” Donald Judd

One of Donald Judd’s most iconic forms, Untitled celebrates the artist’s interest in art as a direct expression of a thing in and of itself. Here, the red metallic form moves art in a different direction than traditional pictorial and sculptural organizations of painting and sculpture in the European manner. “My things are symmetrical because… I wanted to get rid of any compositional effects… all the structures, values, feelings of the whole European tradition” (D. Judd, quoted by G. Battcock, Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, New York, 1995, p. 148). And yet, symmetry is not in play in this beautifully pigmented striation of anodized aluminum. First, there is the blazing color, red-imbued aluminum. Combining a feel of raw industrial material burnished to a sensuous, dazzling illumination, surface movement is enhanced by the smallest incremental expansion of the curved reliefs–four rounded half-crescents jutting into the space of the viewer. The play of light and color creates tactility and visual display that excites the eye as it entices touch. Activation of space is a primary concern for Judd. Writing “there is no neutral space, since space is made,” Judd declares space even as he bifurcates, animating and subduing it in a manner unprecedented in previous art.

Although Judd’s progression may seem to be comprised of parts, they are in fact, conceived as “definite wholes,” (Ibid., p. 154) as an entirely unified field that exists independent of its relational qualities. To put it another way, Judd approaches his progressions simply as they present themselves—as linear, durational events that disrupt and divide the space of the viewer, creating negative and positive spaces over time. Yet as entire entities, they become a spatial presence as it were and as such, part of an entire viewing experience. As part of the work, the supporting wall is defined by the piece as a contrasting vertical expanse, a neutral backdrop to the play of events in the foreground. His progression is an object existing in the world not an illusionistic image.

Color for Judd is primary. As he said, “it’s best to consider everything as color” (D. Judd, “Back to Clarity: Interview with Donald Judd,” in Donald Judd, exh. cat. Staatliche Kunst-halle Baden-Baden, 1989, p. 94). What he meant by that is that color for him is as much a material presence, a thing in and of itself, as the aluminum on which it is placed. Judd’s artistic idea, however, was to put color into space, to allow it to, as he deftly said, “occur in space” (D. Judd, “Some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular,” 1993), in D. Elger, ed., Donald Judd: Colorist, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. 112). The striking optical charge comes from the manner in which Judd fused pigment with the aluminum, creating a unity between color, finish, and material presence. By means of an electrochemical process that leaves the aluminum surface porous, color becomes fixed in its coating. This synthesis compellingly realizes Judd’s notion that “it had never occurred to me to make three-dimensional work without color” (D. Judd, “Extracts from ‘Some Aspects of Colour in General and Red and Black in Particular,’ 1993, in J. Alison, ed., Color after Klein, London, 2005, p. 171). Judd’s choice of color relied on the industrial color charts, freeing not only his choice of color but the way it functioned past art traditions as an aide to form and volume. As exemplars of formal rhythms and issues of proportion, as alternations of positive and negative spaces, of convex forms of progressive serialized expansions interrupting space, this progression with its spectacular optical excitation, may seem to lack the expressionistic, humanistic qualities of previous art, but even more in a sense to speak to that which is essential to our everyday specular experiences.

After all, the notion of creating a work of art conceptually, having little input in its actual physical construction, is a mode of art practice to which Judd was committed. The work of art was not a trace of artistic intervention using clay, steel, or paint. After years of painting, he moved away to three-dimensional constructions from diagrams, which he then had industrially fabricated. Judd’s numerical systems, drawings, and diagrams generate the ultimate work of art and therein resides the seeming contradiction. How can works of such startling beauty emerge from such schematic preparatory drawings, mere graphite on paper and calculations of numerical progressions? The answer lies in the way artistic work of Judd and his artist peers, such as Dan Flavin, was generated during the period of Judd’s initial conceptualizations. Judd’s progression is as he had often described it, a modular system, a serial repetition of “one thing after another” that implied, as historian James Meyer writes, “exponential expansions, a potentially infinite number of” of convex elaborations, suggesting a logic that could continue to expand or retract. “Judd’s purely visual aesthetic,” apparent in his progressions, “can be seen as itself; it was ‘given’” (J. Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemic in the Sixties, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 208).

The repeating “bull-nose” motif in its several variations becomes for Judd a signal moment in his oeuvre, a key event through he could objectify his resistance to traditional painting and sculpture. Untitled is based on the principal of the unending Fibonacci scheme (named after the 13th century mathematician), growing by fixed ratio as the intervals of negative space decrease in size. This underlying thematic in the progressions was not a reductive impulse, but rather one that focused Judd on issues he felt essential to art making for his time. “It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting...the main things are alone and are more intense, clear and powerful” (D. Judd, “Specific Objects,” in C. Harrision, et. al. eds., Art in Theory, 1990-1990, Oxford, 1993, pp. 827-828).

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