Donald Judd

Donald Judd (1928–1994)

“Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” [1]
—Donald Judd

About the artist

Donald Judd was born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, in 1928. At Columbia University, New York, he studied philosophy and art history and began to produce his earliest paintings.

In the early 1960s, he switched from painting to sculpture and started to develop an interest in architecture. Though he shunned the term "minimalism" Donald Judd became one of the movement's leading artists as it emerged as a counterforce to Abstract Expressionism. Whereas Abstract Expressionism focused on gestural, intuitive expression, Minimalism dealt solely with materials and space. The work of art became a product of the interaction between the object, the viewer, and the environment.

In his 1965 treatise "Specific Objects," Judd championed recent work that was neither painting nor sculpture. He endorsed "the thing as a whole" rather than a composition of parts. Judd's earliest freestanding sculptures were singular, boxlike forms constructed of wood or metal. As his exploration of three-dimensional space became more complex, he developed a number of strategies to subordinate a work's individual components to the whole, by using rows and progressions of systematically recurring forms. In its repetition of serial forms and spaces, the vertical stack of Untitled (1969) literally incorporates space as one of its materials along with highly polished copper, creating interplay between forms and spaces.
–Adapted from an essay by J. Fiona Ragheb, Guggenheim Museum Collection: A to Z, New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2001.

Footnotes:

1. Donald Judd, "Specific Objects," 1964. Arts Yearbook 8 (1965), p 94; reprinted in Thomas Kellein, Donald Judd: Early Works 1955–1968 (exh. cat.). New York: D.A.P., 2002.
2. Images of works by Jackson Pollock can be found on the Collection Online.

View + Discuss

Donald Judd (1928–1994)
Untitled, 1969
Copper: ten units, each 9 x 40 x 31 inches, Each with 9 inch intervals: 170 x 40 x 31 inches (432 x 102 x 79 cm) overall
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Panza Collection, 91.3713.a-.j
©Donald Judd Estate / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

A note to teachers: The scale of this work is very important. If possible project the image on a surface where it can be seen at its full height of 9 feet.

1. Brainstorm a list of words that come to mind when you look at this work. When done, compare your list with another student's. Is your word list highly consistent or very different?   Discuss your responses.

2. Donald Judd began making Minimalist work while Abstract Expressionism still dominated the art world.   Show students a work of Abstract Expressionist art, perhaps a painting by Jackson Pollock. [2] Describe how are these works are related. How are they different?

3. Placement and repetition are central to Judd's work. Although this work is untitled, it contains very specific information about how it should be installed in the gallery or museum. Think about some alternative ways that these ten units might be situated.   What other arrangements might Judd have considered? Do you think he chose the best one? Why? Why not?

4. It was very important to Judd that his work be seen as a whole, rather than as individual parts. Do you think he was successful? Explain your response.

5. List the qualities that you value in a work of art. Does this work satisfy those criteria? How? How not?

Further Explorations

In the early 1960s Donald Judd abandoned painting, stating that "actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface."   What is your reaction to this statement? Do you agree, disagree, or have a mixed reaction?

Judd spent his lifetime exploring various large-scale geometric forms, industrial materials, and recurring arrangements for his work. Choose a geometric form, material, and arrangement for a work that you would like to create. Make a drawing or model for your work and explain the choices you have made.

Judd used many industrial materials that had not previously been considered for making art, including stainless steel, concrete, plywood, brass, copper, Plexiglas, and galvanized iron (often enameled or anodized). Some have even called Judd's use of materials "sumptuous." What material would you consider sumptuous? How would you create a work of art using the material you have chosen?

Even though the limited parameters of Judd's work may at first seem very restrictive, they create many possible outcomes. Complete the table below and then create sketches or models for some of the works that could be created within these stringent specifications. You may want to use graph paper to keep the scale consistent.     


GEOMETRIC FORM 

SIZE

MATERIAL

COLOR

NUMBER

PLACEMENT

CONFIGURATION

eg.

3-D RECTANGLE

5' X 3' X 2'

Poured glass

Blue

20

On the floor

Alternating 90 degrees, 2 feet apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue the table-
mix + match the possibilities

Additional Resources

Donald Judd: Complete Writings, 1959–1975, ed. Kasper Koenig. Halifax: The Press of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in association with New York University Press, New York, 1975.

Donald Judd: Complete Writings, 1975–1986. Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum, 1987.

Donald Judd: Sculpture 1991. Trans. Gregory Sims. New York: Pace Gallery, 1991. Text by Yve-Alain Bois.

Donald Judd: Early Fabricated Work. New York: PaceWildenstein, 1998. Texts by Rosalind E. Krauss and Robert Smithson.

Donald Judd: Early Work 1955–1968, ed. Thomas Kellein. Houston: Menil Foundation Publications, 2002.

Working Things Out, Richard Kalina Art in America, November, 2003 pp. 122 – 129.

Leider, Philip. “Perfect Unlikeness,” ArtForum (February, 2002). Reprinted at http://findarticles.com.

The Chinati Foundation, located in Marfa, Texas, is a contemporary art museum based upon the ideas of its founder, Donald Judd. Its mission is to preserve and present to the public permanent large-scale installations in which art and the surrounding landscape are inextricably linked. 

Sackler Center

This presentation, comprised of selected materials from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives, pays homage to the first Frank Lloyd Wright–designed structures in New York City.

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