"Material, space and color are the main aspects of visual art," Judd proclaimed in 1993."Everyone knows that there is material that can be picked up and sold, but no-one sees space and color. Two of the main aspects of art are invisible; the basic nature of art in invisible" (D. Judd, "Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular," in N. Serota (ed.), Donald Judd, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2004, p. 154). This declaration, the last formal statement the artist made before his premature death the following year, provides a fitting epitaph for Judd's artistic career, striving as he did to find a new, more rigorous, raison d'etre for artistic endeavor in the twentieth century. That journey began almost thirty years previously when, in the nascent age of Pop, Judd began exploring his ideas with a unique body of work that started testing his emerging hypothesis. Untitled (DSS 42) is a very early example of these ideas, one of only five variants on this theme that the artist produced during a short three year period. This important and groundbreaking piece would become the forerunner of many of his most iconic series including his Stacks and Progressions.
With its alluring combination of intense chromatic supremacy and industrial materials, Untitled (DSS 42) possesses an unrivalled sense of presence, commanding the space it occupies with a spellbinding combination of size, material and color. Executed in galvanized iron, aluminum and wood this work explores Judd's concerns that art should be a holistic experience and one that truly encompasses and celebrates all aspects of its creation. The composition is dominated by a large expanse of wood painted with the artist's iconic cadmium red, resulting in an area that resonates and reverberates with an intensity of color that is unrivalled in twentieth century art, except perhaps by the forces of color created by Mark Rothko on his large-scale canvases. Onto this, Judd places a series of precisely positioned wooden bands that cascade down to complete the space between the metal fringes. These bands become one of the earliest examples of Judd's use of space, and 'negative' space in particular, within the body of his sculpture-a device that would eventually manifest itself fully in his famous Stacks and Progressions. This magnificent passage of painted red woodwork is crowned by an elegantly curved galvanized iron cornice and skirt. The gradual arc of gray iron reaches out of the space defined by the traditional picture plane to break new ground (literally and metaphorically), occupying an area normally denied to it by wall mounted work. At the same time this arrangement welcomes the viewer into that space as its gradual cambers lead the eye towards the blistering heart of the work. In a move that would become a precursor of future direction of the artist, these curves were not produced by Judd himself, but were brought into the composition by the pre-fabricated nature of the material that he selected to be used in the work.
At eight feet across Untitled (DSS 42) is, along with Untitled (DSS 34) executed a year earlier, the largest of the five variants that Judd produced. Beginning in 1961 with Untitled (DSS 25) he began producing three-dimensional wall mounted reliefs and the first example was constructed from oil and sand painted plywood with a concave upper and lower edge made from galvanized iron. Speaking to John Coplans in 1971, Judd recalled how this unique form came about: "One of the first three-dimensional ones started off as a piece of canvas from failed painting that I tried to turn up, but I couldn't make the canvas turn up evenly. So after a while it occurred to me to change the material and use something that would curve naturally. I threw out the piece of canvas and replaced it with galvanized iron. The relief is galvanized iron and painted plywood. It's the first really three dimensional relief" (D. Judd, quoted by J. Coplans, Don Judd, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Museum, 1971, p. 21). The rest of the series vary in dimensions and only three, including the present work, have horizontal bands incised in them, to create the alternating shapes and fissures. One of these works, Untitled (DSS 40) was installed by the artist in his bedroom at 101 Spring Street in New York. Judd regarded these works as an important juncture in his career, as they were the first works that allowed him to fully explore the ideas that were beginning to formulate in his mind about what art could and should be concerned with.
In addition to the significance of this particular work within the artist's oeuvre, the distinguishing quality of this piece is Judd's use of intense color to express form. Like other master harnessers of color such as Mark Rothko and Yves Klein, Judd recognized the power of color to exert physical reactions in those who observed his work. Untitled (DSS 42) is one of the first examples to exploit this quality and clearly expresses Judd's belief in both the optical and expressive power of color. In 1916, the Spanish Expressionist painter Johannes Itten wrote about the physical properties of color in art, "Form is also color. Without color there is no form. Form and color are one." This statement resonates with Judd's own views, and in 1993, just a year before his death, he concluded that, 'It never occurred to me to make a three-dimensional work without color. I took Itten's premise, which I had not read, for granted. Color is like material. It is one way or another, but it obdurately exists. Its existence as it is the main fact and not what it might mean, which may be nothing. No immediate feeling can be attributed to color. Nothing can be identified. If it seems otherwise, usually the association is cultural; for example, the light blue and white, supposedly the colors of peace, of the cops and the United Nations. If there were an identifiable feeling to red or to red and black together they would not be useable to me. Color, like material, is what art is made from" (D. Judd, "Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular" 1993, in D. Elger (ed.), Donald Judd. Colorist, exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit 2000, pp. 110-114).
Untitled (DSS 42) is also one of the earliest examples in which Judd combines seemingly contrary materials to produce a holistic whole. An overriding interest for Judd was the way in which different materials could work in polarity or alliance. As Judd stated, "the greater the polarity of the elements in a work, the greater the work's comprehension of space, time and existence" (D. Judd, John Chamberlain: New Sculpture, exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York, 1989, pp. ix-x). Composed of two seemingly antithetical materials--wood and galvanized iron--this work would at first seem to go against Judd's statement in 'Specific Objects' that his work be viewed as '[a] thing as a whole' rather than a conglomeration of parts. But this juxtaposition augments the strategies that would become apparent in Judd's Stack concept, of crating harmonies through material and sensory polarities. Through the interaction of the warmth and surface quality of the vibrant wooden curtain of cadmium red and the cool, dispassionate and industrial nature of the galvanized iron, Untitled (DSS 42) successfully portrays Judd's belief that contradictory elements can exist harmoniously and create an enticing visual experience.
Robert Stern, the renowned architect and Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, acquired the present work in 1968 and has long admired it, not only for its formal and aesthetic qualities but also for the revolutionary nature of Judd's practice, "From the minute I saw the work, I knew of its importance. Not because I could predict what would happen to the history of art, from 1968 on, but I knew what had happened before. I could see that this was a fundamental change. This was not Abstract Expressionism. This was not de Kooning, or Jackson Pollock, or a lot of artists, whom I respected, and still respect today, but this was something different. It was essentially its own thing, as Andy Warhol's play with soap boxes, or even the way he painted flowers. I mean, what was the most cliched subject in the history of art? Probably flower paintings. But when Andy did them flat and silk screened them, they were something else. So that's the same thing I felt about this piece, and I still get that feeling about it" (R. A. M. Stern, interviewed by Christie's, September 2013).
In his 1965 treatise Specific Objects, Judd railed against the constraints that he felt had been placed on Western art for almost a millennia. He felt that the limitations of the rectangular form placed flat against a wall and the need to try and replicate the illusion of space on the painted surface stifled the creative process and needed to be discarded. Works such as Untitled (DSS 42) were Judd's response to what he saw as a crisis in contemporary art and the need to create new forms that responded to the challenges of their time. With works such as this, Judd takes his place among the pantheon of twentieth century artists who fundamentally changed the course of history. Following in the tradition of Jackson Pollock, whose drip paintings finally broke the bond between painter and canvas, and Frank Stella's Black Paintings which discarded the need for spatial illusion, Judd makes the next, unassailable step of taking art into a new dimension--a dimension in which it could finally achieve the full potential of creativity. "Three dimensions are real space," he concluded. "That gets rid of the problem of illusionism and of literal space, space in and around marks and colors--which is the riddance of one of the salient and most objectionable relics of European art. The several limits of painting are no longer present. A work can be as powerful as it can be thought to be" (D. Judd, 'Specific Objects,' Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-1975, Halifax, 1975, p. 181).