Donald Judd in his studio in Spring Street, New York, 1976. Photograph Harry Shunk. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2014.R.20). Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein

Donald Judd, printmaker: 10 things to know

Donald Judd’s prints employed the same Minimalist vocabulary as his sculptures. Illustrated with works offered at Christie’s

Donald Judd (1928-1994) is best known for his abstract, three-dimensional ‘stacks’, ‘boxes’ and single ‘specific objects’ such as Untitled (DSS 42), his 1963 work in galvanised iron, aluminium and wood that sold at Christie’s for a record $14,165,000 in 2013.

Yet the artist’s output also includes a striking body of graphic work, created across four decades and expressing the same fascination with repetition, line, shape and colour.

  • 1
  • Judd’s early prints were figurative

Born in Missouri in 1928, Judd made his first print in 1951 at the Art Students League of New York, while he was studying philosophy at Columbia University. Though he is now known for his hard-lined geometric forms, his early experiments were figurative, as this self-published lithograph reveals — even if the artist’s focus on line and shape is already apparent in details such as the floor tiles.

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled (Schellmann 1), 1951-52. Lithograph on wove paper. Sheet 18 x 13 in (456 x 329 mm). Sold for $4,800 on 31 October-1 November 2006 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork © Judd FoundationARS, NY and DACS, London 2020
Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled (Schellmann 1), 1951-52. Lithograph on wove paper. Sheet: 18 x 13 in (456 x 329 mm). Sold for $4,800 on 31 October-1 November 2006 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © Judd Foundation/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020
  • 2
  • His preferred medium was the woodcut

From the mid-1950s to 1961, Judd moved progressively from figurative to abstract imagery and shifted his attention from experiments in lithography, etching, aquatint and screen-printing to the woodcut. His early woodcuts from the 1950s share the curved and flowing lines characteristic of his paintings in the late 1960s.

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1962-79. Woodcut in cadmium red, on offset paper. Sheet 21⅛ x 28½  in (537 x 724  mm). Estimate $18,000-25,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1962-79. Woodcut in cadmium red, on offset paper. Sheet: 21⅛ x 28½ in (537 x 724 mm). Estimate: $18,000-25,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

  • 3
  • Judd practised what he preached

While Judd was exploring the woodcut, he was also studying and working as an art critic. In 1965 he produced his seminal essay, Specific Objects, rejecting European artistic values of illusion and represented space in favour of an all-new American exploration of colour, space and material. 

Judd believed that art should not represent anything; it should simply exist. In line with this thinking, his prints began to take on a more angular style.

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled one print, 1962-79. Woodcut in cadmium red, on offset paper. Sheet 22 x 29¾  in (559 x 756  mm). Estimate $20,000-30,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled: one print, 1962-79. Woodcut in cadmium red, on offset paper. Sheet: 22 x 29¾ in (559 x 756 mm). Estimate: $20,000-30,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

  • 4
  • Judd preferred thinking to making

By 1960 Judd was also working with his father, Roy C. Judd, a woodwork enthusiast who started carving the blocks and printing his son’s graphic work, as well as fabricating a number of Judd’s early relief paintings and three-dimensional objects.

Donald Judd, Untitled Six Plates (Schellmann 66-71), 1961-63. Six woodcuts in cerulean blue on cartridge paper. Each sheet 30½ x 22 in (775 x 560 mm). Sold for $102,000 on 31 October-1 November 2006 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork © Judd FoundationARS, NY and DACS, London 2020
Donald Judd, Untitled: Six Plates (Schellmann 66-71), 1961-63. Six woodcuts in cerulean blue on cartridge paper. Each sheet: 30½ x 22 in (775 x 560 mm). Sold for $102,000 on 31 October-1 November 2006 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © Judd Foundation/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020

Roy’s mastery of technique allowed his son to take a step back from the making process and to focus on ideas. As Donald’s son Flavin later wrote, ‘These were the decisive years. He had moved to a new way of thinking: he would divide and use space instead of imposing something upon it.’

  • 5
  • His favourite shape was the parallelogram

The parallelogram became Judd’s key preoccupation in the 1960s, explored in a series of 26 prints in which the artist investigated different angles and relationships between lines.

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled One Print, 1961-63. Woodcut in cerulean blue on cartridge paper. Sheet 30¼ x 21¾ in (768 x 553 mm). Sold for $15,000 in Working from Home Prints and Multiples, 30 April-14 May 2020, Online. Artwork © Judd FoundationARS, NY and DACS, London 2020
Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled: One Print, 1961-63. Woodcut in cerulean blue on cartridge paper. Sheet: 30¼ x 21¾ in (768 x 553 mm). Sold for $15,000 in Working from Home: Prints and Multiples, 30 April-14 May 2020, Online. Artwork: © Judd Foundation/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020

While some works in the series had originally been wall-mounted objects that Judd later decided to ink and print (essentially creating two-dimensional manifestations of three-dimensional sculptures), others began as prints, created by his father to Judd’s designs. Once they’d been printed, the woodblocks also became objects.

  • 6
  • His favourite colour was red

The 1960s and 1970s are also defined by Judd’s dedication to cadmium red. As he explored space and materials, Judd believed that colour should clarify rather than distract from form, and cadmium red had the ability to absorb light and highlight hard edges. As the artist explained, ‘Red seems to be the only colour that really makes an object sharp and defines its contours and angles.’

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled one print, 1961-79. Woodcut in cadmium red, on offset paper. Sheet 21½ x 29¾  in (546 x 756  mm). Estimate $20,000-30,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples  on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled: one print, 1961-79. Woodcut in cadmium red, on offset paper. Sheet: 21½ x 29¾ in (546 x 756 mm). Estimate: $20,000-30,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

  • 7
  • He divided and ruled

Around 1986, Judd turned his attention to the variations on a solid rectangular form exemplified in his contribution to the portfolio ‘For Joseph Beuys’. These mature works demonstrate Judd’s interest in framing and dividing the flat surface of a sheet of paper, and are notable for their uncompromising celebration of colour.

From here, Judd went on to create numerous series of prints that explored positive and negative space through repeated images, as in the woodcut series ‘Untitled’ from 1988 (below).

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1988. The complete set of ten woodcuts in ivory black on Okawara paper. Each Sheet 23½ x 31½  in (597 x 800  mm). Estimate $200,000-300,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples  on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1988. The complete set of ten woodcuts in ivory black on Okawara paper. Each Sheet: 23½ x 31½ in (597 x 800 mm). Estimate: $200,000-300,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

  • 8
  • Judd’s later work became increasingly multicoloured

In 1990 Judd made his first experiments using differently coloured blocks in a single print, varying the rectangular form by dividing it into halves and thirds. The bold colours and rigorous geometry of the prints are modified only by variations in the wood grain of the printing block, or the texture of the paper. The polychrome nature of this series is reflected in Judd’s increasing use of colour in his later three-dimensional work.

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1990. The complete set of seven woodcuts in colours, on Tosa Hanga paper. Each Sheet 23½ x 31½  in (600 x 800  mm). Estimate $100,000-150,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples  on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1990. The complete set of seven woodcuts in colours, on Tosa Hanga paper. Each Sheet: 23½ x 31½ in (600 x 800 mm). Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Offered in Prints and Multiples on 20-21 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York

  • 9
  • He liked more than one of everything

Between 1967 and 1992, Judd created eight different sets of works in editions ranging from three to 200. His first editioned multiple, published in 1967 as part of a portfolio of works by 10 Pop artists represented by Leo Castelli, was made of folded stainless steel, exemplifying Judd’s early interest in industrialised, machine-made materials.

His later editions reflect the same polychrome approach as his woodcuts and three-dimensional objects. In 1991 Judd created an edition of 12 objects in anodised extruded aluminium, involving an electrochemical process that combined colour and material into one. 

‘Anodised aluminium is a little better to me,’ he explained, ‘because at least a little layer of it is colour in the material.’ 

Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1991. Anodised extruded aluminum, number 812. 5⅞ x 41⅜ x 5⅞ in (15 x 105 x 15 cm). Sold for $93,750 on 25 July 2014 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork © Judd FoundationARS, NY and DACS, London 2020
Donald Judd (1928-1994), Untitled, 1991. Anodised extruded aluminum, number 8/12. 5⅞ x 41⅜ x 5⅞ in (15 x 105 x 15 cm). Sold for $93,750 on 25 July 2014 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © Judd Foundation/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020
  • 10
  • Judd preferred permanent installations

Donald Judd passed away in 1994 following a battle with cancer, but his work and preoccupation with material, space and colour live on at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, and at the Judd Foundation in the artist’s former residences in both Marfa and New York. 

For an artist who disliked temporary exhibitions, believing that they degraded art through incompetency or incomprehension, that’s as it should be.