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Donald Judd (1928-1994)
From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot whic… Read more
Donald Judd (1928-1994)

Untitled, 1989 (Bernstein 89-24)

Details
Donald Judd (1928-1994)
Untitled, 1989 (Bernstein 89-24)
stamped 'JO JUDD BERNSTEIN BROS. INC. 89-24' (on the reverse of each element)
copper and red Plexiglas
ten elements--each: 9 x 40 x 31 in. (22.9 x 101.6 x 78.7 cm.)
Executed in 1989.
Provenance
Pace Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Pizzuti, Columbus
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Special Notice

From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot.

Lot Essay

Untitled, 1989 (Bernstein 89-24), stands as a complete statement of Judd's contribution to twentieth century art. Spanning over thirteen feet of vertical length and bisecting ten three-foot expanses in rhythmic intervals, Donald Judd's full stack, examples of which are held by almost every major international museum, sets up a giddy reverberation of the senses. We are dazzled by the brilliance of its color and arrested by the stillness of its textures, the sensuous, if cool copper, the fine, smooth-as-silk finish of the red-soaked Plexiglas. In a bold act of aggression against the painted canvas, Untitled represents the apex of Donald Judd's career-long involvement with establishing space and color as the foremost elements in art. The creation of rectilinear objects that confronted the viewer with their obdurate material presence was part of the visual vocabulary of so-called Minimalist artists, among them Robert Morris and Dan Flavin. But, only with Flavin does Judd share the extraordinarily compelling visual opulence that catalyzed these artists' concern with the visual activation of space. Writing "there is no neutral space, since space is made," with Untitled, Judd insisted that his objects existed as self-evident participants with no relation to anything beyond their factual presence: material and color are the work's only constituent elements. The play of reflection, the burn of red into copper, like molten lava, creates a serration of expansion and contraction. The hand, too, is tempted--against all Judd's arguments to the contrary--by the sheer tactility of the stack, the sensuous smoothness of its finish, the emanating warmth of copper encountered in measured intervals. Projecting and receding, the jutting and regressive planes both invite and reject vision. The wall is a factor here, but not as it once was, a parallel surface to the flatness of the canvas; rather, it defines itself against the slice of cantilevered modules, which project with clarity and abruptness.

Everything about Untitled remains as new as its foundational concept, which dates to 1963. It was then that the notion of the relationship of an object to the floor and then, in 1966, to the wall became clear. Judd's realization that space is not discovered or identified, but rather "made by thought," catalyzed a new idea about objects and their relationship to abutting surfaces-neither propped by pedestals nor encircled by frames. "It is impossible for people to understand that placement on the floor and the absence of a pedestal were inventions. I invented them" (D. Judd, "Some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular," in D. Elger, (ed.), Donald Judd: Colorist, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. 84). Judd soon realized "this relationship could be the same to the wall," and so, for his first exhibition at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York, he took an obvious step toward establishing space "amply and strongly" (Ibid., 84). To do this, Judd projected his object "sufficiently" from the wall. Each unit needed to be spaced equally, not only between themselves, but also in relation to the floor and ceiling. The importance of projection and scale cannot be underestimated, for Judd abhorred the notion of "flattening," the idea that in any way his modules would approximate illusionism, which is to say, that they might be understood as reliefs, extensions of the wall rather than as new specific presences in themselves. "The necessary difference was that the work not be flattened, low or high, [or] to the wall. This invention is still not understood or rather it is completely lost" (Ibid., p. 91).

Beyond spatial hierarchy and materials, color is the single-most telling aspect of Untitled as it is for his entire output. 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). To address the issue of color in Judd's output is to read Judd's vibrant hues through the lens of Pollock, where color articulates the material surface, creating its singular presence, a presence that Judd found "could not be surpassed" in any artwork made after. Color had become primary for Judd by 1960-62 in a series of line paintings, which for him clarified and isolated the single line created by Pollock's drips. Pollock was also vital to Judd's understanding of space and wholeness through "his specific use of color and materials" (Ibid., p. 81), that is to say, the precise physical nature of Pollock's drip. "The dripped paint in most of Pollock's paintings is dripped paint. It's that sensation, completely immediate and specific and nothing modifies it a totality much greater and unlike any of the parts" (D. Judd, "In the Galleries, Arts Magazine, Vol. XXXIV, March 1960, p. 55). In like manner, Judd conceived Pollock's color as an equally obdurate material presence, a single element in a reduced visual vocabulary. As Pollock joined color with facture, Judd would extend Pollock's "final statement on a flat surface. [For] color to continue [it] had to occur in space" (D. Judd, "Some Aspects," op. cit., p. 112).

Judd's dissolving of discrete elements, color and material, into wholeness is achieved in Untitled, not only through a rectilinear consistency in shape and rhythmic disposition, but also through the apprehension of the way in which the color red articulates space. Judd's identification of red as a phenomenon and sensation dates to four decades earlier, when as a nineteen-year-old, he visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There, The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning, circa 1460, by Rogier van der Weyden entranced him. Its right panel bears a striking, almost uncanny, relationship to the present work in which the radiance of the red, pulsating in a vertical, rectilinear block of high roseate opulence, mirrors in shape and hue the vertical support for the suffering Christ on the cross. Striking is the way in which Untitled carries forward into his late career Judd's predisposition for this color. In an interview with John Coplans, Judd explains how red supports his search for clarity in his works: "[Red] 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. Red seems to be the only color that really makes an object sharp and defines its contours and angles" (D. Judd, "Don Judd: An Interview with John Coplans," in Don Judd, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Museum, 1971, p. 25). Untitled proclaims this clarity of form, a driving factor for Judd's oeuvre. For Judd, the apprehension of the start and finish of the rectilinear edge and its role in articulating space was essential, and coloration became the decisive delineating factor. "It never occurred to me to make three-dimensional work without color" (Ibid., p. 91).

In Untitled, Judd has leveled the hierarchy of surface and color. Because the red hue inheres in the synthetic resin, the Plexiglas, Judd is able to eliminate hierarchical relationships between elements by reducing two of them to a single medium. The second medium, copper, balances the Plexiglas: thus, two colors, red and burnished amber inhere in two distinct mediums, causing a multiplicity of chromatic event within a richly complex wholeness. These two material elements are balanced by yet another duality, their surface finish. The opposition between an illusive depth, intimated by the copper tops and bottoms--which seems to appear and disappear according both to the reflected light and the angle from which it is viewed--is opposed by the density of the Plexiglas, which stops vision, conveying through its shimmer a shallowness of surface rather than depth. These effects, depth and shallowness, moreover, are, like their colors, intrinsic to the materials. For Judd, such simplicity--and tension--renders the piece "whole."

Walking around the expanse of Untitled, 1989 (Bernstein 89-24), the work reveals itself as a series of open and closed forms, shadows and light playing at will upon the viewer's gaze, creating brazen volumes or hidden recessions depending on the surrounding environment as well as on the modules relationship to the floor or ceiling. This tension of opposites--whether between negative and positive space, reflective or dull surfaces, enclosed or open volumes--supports Judd's desire for independently interacting elements that work to create a single event. Untitled celebrates and carries forward the extraordinary shift in sensibilities and goals Judd desired for his new art. Its verticality, its modular structure, its equidistant and equal parts are apprehended at a glance. Space and coloration open up an entirely new artistic vision. The central subject of Judd's life-long practice is situated here, in a glorious statement in which "color and three-dimensional space are one" (D. Judd, "Some aspects," op. cit., p. 111).

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