Home Magazine Donald Judd. What’s minimal about Minimal Art?

Donald Judd began his prolific career as a painter writing art criticism, but, since he didn’t pursue what he was looking for, transmuted canvases into simplified tridimensional objects and never thought of his work as sculptural. He, ironically, became one of the foremost sculptors of our time, changing the language of modern sculpture as “Judd” - the first US retrospective in over 30 years at MoMA - points out.

Related articles: A Comprehensive Guide on Minimalist Art-Another tribute to minimal art

Far ahead the new theories, literature and canons of Minimalism, is the art of Donald Judd (American, 1928-1994). Almost 60 years ago, the minimalist master - who remained deeply skeptical of the term “Minimal Art” - was more radical. 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminium (1982-1986) in Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas are a “constant affirmation of the simple possibility of sensation” argues the journalist and art critic Kyle Chayka in his first book The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism. This stinging point of view is particularly interesting. For the art world, around the mid-1960s, Minimalism signified new beginnings, drastic simplifications of forms, the lack of intention behind the object of art, not necessarily void, transience, messiness or uncertainty. But, above all, Minimalism flirted with the notion of pure sensation.  

Donald Judd. Untitled. 1991. Enameled aluminum. 59" x 24' 7 1/4" x 65" (150 x 750 x 165 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Bequest of Richard S. Zeisler and gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (both by exchange) and gift of Kathy Fuld, Agnes Gund, Patricia Cisneros,
Doris Fisher, Mimi Haas, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, and Emily Spiegel. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Donald Judd. Untitled. 1963/1975. Cadmium red light oil on wood and purple lacquer on aluminum. 48 × 83 × 48" (121.9 × 210.8 × 121.9 cm).
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Judd’s shimmering aluminium boxes - Chayka writes - are “empty of content except for the sheer fact of their physical presence, obdurate and silent, explaining nothing and with nothing to explain”. Minimalist elusiveness is always more complicated than it appears. “Three dimensions are real space and actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.”, Donald Judd provocatively wrote in 1965 in “Specific Objects”, the first serious attempt to frame the new movement theoretically. What is broadly called Minimalism from 1968 - characterized by the erosion of the boundaries between painting and sculpture, by an impersonal generative process for which Judd’s red floor wooden box with slotted trough (Untitled, 1963) had industrially been made, was an act of resistance, a challenge to Abstract Expressionism. First, considered as “Primary Structures” - boards, pipes, slabs, beams, polygons and huge portals - than “ Art of the Real” (the eponymous exhibition at MoMA in 1968), what exactly are, besides unitary forms, in essence, these minimalist, enigmatic sculptures?


Donald Judd. Untitled. 1964. Orange pebbled Plexiglas and hot-rolled steel. 20 × 45 3/8 × 31" (50.8 × 115.3 × 78.7 cm).
Stephen Flavin, Garrison. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Donald Judd. Untitled. 1968, Brass, 22 × 48 1/4 × 36", 240 lb. (55.9 × 122.6 × 91.4 cm, 108.9 kg). Gift of Philip Johnson.
© 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Color and material are things already existing in the world. Judd had chosen to use industrial materials, such as aluminium, steel, and Plexiglas as they were. To eliminate the artist’s touch and the insistence on the uniqueness of the work of art, his volumes and hollows were produced by local metal shops, replicating the same shape a number of times. Not to mention Judd’s sentiment on specific criteria as time and space: pure sensations related to the viewer and his active approach to the public space, mute but a fluid keeper of the artwork.


Donald Judd, Lacquer on galvanized iron, Twelve units, each 9 x 40 x 31" (22.8 x 101.6 x 78.7 cm),installed vertically with 9" (22.8 cm) intervals.
Helen Acheson Bequest (by exchange) and gift of Joseph Helman. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


According to his ultimate principle, there is no separation or hidden meaning between us, the viewers, and the works. “Boxes”, “Stacks”, “Progressions” and “Channel pieces”, have been his real space’s fields of survey for years, until the last decade of his life, when Judd boosted his work with color. An interesting fact about Judd is that almost everything in “Judd” is painted with a cadmium red light paint, the ideal marker for edges and outlines. Red: the powerful yet aggressive pigment for empowering the vision. Perceiving the air and space in between things. From Donald Judd’s yellow oil on canvas with curved lines from the 1960s, say, to large piece of multicolor enameled columns (Untitled, 1991), he concentrated on the Phenomenology of Perception’s models. The absence of a focal point - there is no hierarchy nor preexisting ideas - other dimensions of looking, spatial horizon, presence and invisibility, and the experience of sublime - or should I call it mystery? - in life.  


Donald Judd. Untitled. 1969. Clear anodized aluminum and blue Plexiglas. Four units, each 48 × 60 × 60" (121.9 × 152.4 × 152.4 cm), with 12" (30.5 cm) intervals.
Overall: 48 × 276 × 60" (121.9 × 701 × 152.4 cm). Saint Louis Art Museum. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Donald Judd. Untitled. 1989. Anodized aluminum clear and amber acrylic sheet. 39 3/8 × 78 3/4 × 78 3/4" (100 × 200 × 200 cm).
Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Cover image: Donald Judd. Untitled. 1966. Turquoise enamel on aluminum. 10 units, each: 48 × 120 × 6 5/8" (121.9 × 304.8 × 16.8 cm), with 6" (15.2 cm) intervals. Overall: 48 × 120 × 120" (121.9 × 304.8 × 304.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Howard and Jean Lipman. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Written by Petra Chiodi

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