Untitled, 1967, is among the earliest realizations of Donald Judd’s revolutionary “specific object,” a fusion of the two-dimensional easel picture with the spatial dimensions occupied by traditional sculpture. A relief extending into the space of the viewer, Untitled is an explosive artistic statement, and among the earliest to announce Judd’s deep commitment to color. The merging of color and formal configuration is taken to stunning heights in Untitled. A congruence of monochrome, surface finish, and interrupted volumes, Untitled beckons the viewer to explore one’s relationship to the object, to discover how viewing angles and changes in physical proximity affect perception.
Untitled offers a totalizing, experiential moment for the viewer. The phenomenological experience extends to its color. While fabricated from industrial materials, color is always there–to remind us of Judd’s artistic beginnings as a painter and to make us understand that Judd’s color is, as William C. Agee stated, “An essential core of his works’ structure and character… it [has] an unmistakable presence, a defining element of his” (W. C. Agee, “Endless Possibilities of Color, continued,” in Don Judd, The Multicolored Works, New Haven, 2014, p. 194). Agee here echoes Judd’s own assertion that “color, like materials, is what art is made from,” (D. Judd. Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular, Sassenhaime, Netherlands, 1993, p. 278). Judd had once said of John Chamberlain’s reliefs, “They are extreme, snazzy, elegant in the wrong way, immoderate,” but equally, the artist thought their surfaces defined nothing other than themselves (D. Judd, quoted in R. Smithson, “Entropy and the New Monuments,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Los Angeles, 1996, p. 10). Chamberlain, flattered by Judd’s interest, had suggested that Judd go to the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company to purchase what were then known as “Hi-Fi” lacquers, the same paint application the elder artist used (Ibid., p. 10). What intrigued Judd–and what is apparent in Untitled–is the transparency and the effect of the galvanized iron surface coming through, a “star-spangled” quality (Ibid.).
Gone for Chamberlain as for Judd were the allusive references to landscape, narrative content, still-lifes, or even the projection of one’s inner psychic state. Creating a new context for hue and texture, Judd has fashioned in Untitled a series of repeating cubic rectangles that increase in chromatic intensity through each viewing. It is as though the four box shapes that adhere to the long rectilinear support, quadruple visual impact through multiple iterations. Particularly, it was the “uncreated” look, its industrial hardness, and the obdurate, impenetrable color that impressed the artist. Judd’s object extends painting into space while opening onto the viewing space of the beholder. One can look into or through Judd’s object, for being neither painting nor sculpture, Judd insisted on the capacity of his “specific objects” to divide space according to an organized verticality or laterality–a serialized movement across or up that included both positive and negative areas. For Judd felt in his objects a certain perspicuity, where “actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface” (D. Judd, Complete Writings 1959-1975, Halifax and New York, 1975, p. 184). Judd considered this work a “singularity,” one whose configuration made it a whole, rather as in traditional sculpture, a work that is assembled from parts. Untitled’s strength lies in the way its blue monochrome is immediately read as a unitary form. Untitled is charged with color, boasting a rhythmic vitality that ravishes the eye as it beckons both touch and feeling for its own sake.