Born on June 3, 1928, in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, Donald Clarence Judd is one of the landmark figures of the twentieth century, known for his radical and influencing thinking and often criticized work in the fields of art, design, and architecture. He attended the Art Students League in New York and studied philosophy and art history at Columbia Uni­versity, which explains his double-path career both as an artist and an art critic writer, advo­cating for the importance of art and artistic expression. 

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Donald Judd, 1992_Photo by Leo Holub_ © JUDD FOUNDATIONDonald Judd, 1992_Photo by Leo Holub_ © JUDD FOUNDATION

He is the author of the hollow and rectilinear volumes and has produced many other exhibitions around the United States, Europe, and Asia for more than four decades. He also had worked with furniture, design, and architecture during his later life, and died on February 12, 1994, in New York at the age of 65.

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Donald Judd “Stacks”_©The New York Times

Donald Judd’s Art Journey

Before ever being credited as Minimalism’s principal spokesman, the American artist has crossed a long path in the art world. He began his career as an artist by painting, retaining an interest in the aesthetics of two-dimensional art. He exhibited for the first time his expressionist paintings in New York in 1957, and has been moving from figurative to abstract, then relief sculptural art to finally permanently set up on a freestanding work style that embraces materiality. 

Experimenting with creating rigorous vocabulary, Judd broke away from the very grand philosophical statements, and the classical ideals of representational sculpture. 

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Donald Judd at La Mansana de Chinati/The Block, his residence in Marfa, Tex., in 1982_JAMIE DEARING_ ©JUDD FOUNDATION/ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK.

1. Painting: Untitled, 1962, Oil and Wax on Canvas

As we mentioned earlier in this article, Donald Judd’s art journey started with paintings before ever evolving into three-dimensional work. This one was painted in 1960-1961 and is installed at the Architecture Studio after being exhibited in four of Judd’s museum exhibitions. An in-depth contemplation of this painting reveals three different layers: the first one is a composition of the blue and grey underlined canvas, a central rounded shape on the highest canvas beneath the surface, and therefore the final work. 

According to the artist, it marked his unsuccessful efforts to get rid of spatial illusionism, “tried to get rid of spatial illusionism, but I couldn’t get rid of it. So even in a painting like the red one with the gray stripes…which is just all surface, there is still a spatial play around the lines…and one also had the problem that there were at least two things in the painting: the rectangle itself and the thing (image) in the rectangle…You couldn’t get around that.”

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Donald Judd, Untitled, 1962, Oil and wax on canvas, 69 × 101 3/4 inches (175.26 × 258.45 cm)_© JUDD FOUNDATION

2. Object: Untitled, 1963, Cadmium Red Light and Black Oil on Wood with Galvanized Iron and Aluminum

Installed on the 5th floor of 101 Spring Street in New York, this artwork represents one of the very first three-dimensional high reliefs of the artist made in the early 1960s. When he was interviewed about it in 1971, he said: “it started off as a piece of canvas from a 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…I went from low to high relief and then to free-standing work.

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Donald Judd, untitled, 1963, Cadmium red light and black oil on wood with galvanized iron and aluminum, 50 x 42 x 5 ½, installed on the Fifth Floor of 101 Spring Street, New York_© JUDD FOUNDATION

3. Minimalism: Untitled, 1968, Enamel on Aluminum, Guggenheim Museum, New York 

This piece, a freestanding metal rectangle colored with brown enamel, is one of Judd’s early Minimalist attempts. By the 1960s, Judd had given up painting, believing that real space is fundamentally more powerful and specific than paint on a surface; he thought that a sculpture that shares three-dimensional space with the viewer draws more attention to itself than a painting on the wall. Judd was beginning to see the relevance of the surroundings in how a piece is received as an artist.

He lays a simple, rectangular form straight onto the gallery floor in order for it to attract attention both via its persistent materiality and the fact that it obstructs the viewer’s movement around the space. As a result, the piece exists as an object rather than as part of the privileged and distant realm of art. Judd has begun to utilize a new visual vocabulary for three-dimensional form in this way, one that highlights the piece’s simplicity and physicality.

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Donald Judd, untitled, Enamel on aluminum, 55.9 x 127 x 95.3 cm – Guggenheim Museum, NY_© Contemporary Art 106

4. Horizontal Sculpture: Untitled, 1973, Brass and red fluorescent Plexiglas, Guggenheim, New York

Judd believed that his works should be “seen as a whole” rather than as a collection of parts, and was convinced that color, shape, and surface created a unitary character; unlike more traditional works, there is no hierarchy of forms or the focal point — only repetition and rhythm created by repetition.

Judd’s stacks and rows, like the rectangular form with which he began, are readable structures that recur throughout his work. The vertical stack of this Untitled art piece (1973) uses a horizontal format to apply the same spatial structure. The individual boxes’ translucent red Plexiglass sides and opaque, reflecting brass tops, fronts, and bottoms create a brilliant appearance. Color and surface quality aren’t artificially reproduced by the application of paint, but are inherent to the materials themselves, in keeping with Judd’s abandonment of illusionism.

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Donald Judd, untitled, Brass and red fluorescent Plexiglass, 6 units with 8-inch intervals, each unit 86.4 cm – Guggenheim, New York_© IUSB CAPSTONE

5. Vertical Sculpture: Untitled, 1980, Stainless steel and blue Plexiglas in 10 parts

By the 1980s, Judd had shifted his focus to the production of vertically hung stacks, whose concentration on the upright strongly indicates a repeat of the observer’s own body, an undeniable fact that helps to establish a strong and distinct link between two material presences. The use of two distinct materials, aluminum, and Plexiglas allows the observer to have two contrasting experiences: from the front, the beholder is dragged into the dark depths of space, while from the side, the work appears as opaque shapes projecting into space. 

Judd himself stated that his works were “neither painting nor sculpture,” and that he had developed a new vocabulary for art in this way.

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Donald Judd, untitled, 1980, Stainless steel and blue Plexiglas in 10 parts_© El Viejo Topo

6. Permanent Collection: 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, 1980–1984, Marfa

The fifteen concrete works by Donald Judd that were along Chinati’s Foundation’s border were the first to be placed at the museum, and they were cast and constructed on-site for four years, from 1980 to 1984. Each work’s component units are made up of concrete slabs that are each 25 centimeters thick and have comparable measurements of two.5 x 2.5 x 5 meters.

Because the concrete’s neutral hue contrasts with the earth tones of the Texas plain, the shapes’ industrial character appears to be inextricably linked to the abandoned air force base on which they’re installed. These buildings emerge organically from both Judd’s Minimalist style and his infancy years and are inspired by the Missouri countryside in where the artist was reared. He has accomplished complete integration of form and space, art and environment, during this work.

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Donald Judd, 15 untitled works in concrete, 1980-1984. Permanent collection, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. Photo by Florian Holzherr. Donald Judd Art_© 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

7. Installation: 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum – Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas

Inside the two huge, rectangular structures, the boxes can be seen in rectangular shapes, symmetrically lined up within the open areas. The boxes are revealed to visitors through rows of identical black-framed windows that cover the outer walls of the buildings and allow the scorching sun to shine off the metal edges of the boxes. 

The term “mill” in the title corresponds to rolled aluminum’s natural “mill finish” when it comes out of the extruder. That fundamental piece of information refers to the anonymous industrial manufacturing method that was so vital to Judd’s work; it made each item identical and erased any sign of the artist’s touch. However, in the instance of this installation, no two aluminum boxes are similar. 

Although each box’s outside measurements are identical—41 x 51 x 72 inches—each box is also unique due to personalized inside compositions formed by aluminum dividers that separate the internal areas into geometric variations. Even though Judd stopped at 100, he might have easily come up with an unlimited number of variations, the number 100 was thus chosen randomly.

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Donald Judd – 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982-1986. Permanent collection, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. Photo by Douglas Tuck, Judd Art © Judd Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

8. Furniture Design

“The furniture is comfortable to me…A straight chair is best for eating or writing. The third position is standing.” Judd (1928–1994)

This chair appeared in numerous of Judd’s residences, the design couldn’t be simpler and it was made about the comfort of minimalism. And while the design resembles several of Judd’s sculptures, he was always clear that this was a chair, not art.

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A colorful array made of plywood.Image courtesy of 20th_© Century Design Fund/Bridgeman Images

9. The Arena: 1980–1987, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas

The Arena was designed in the 1930s as a gymnasium for Fort D.A. Russell soldiers. The gym floor was broken up for the wood when the fort closed in 1946, and sand was placed to provide an indoor arena for horses. Judd renovated the structure, which was severely damaged, in the mid-1980s. Judd left the lengthy slabs of concrete that had held the hardwood floor in place and filled the gaps with gravel. 

For practical reasons, Judd poured a large concrete space near the kitchen on the south end of the building’s interior, and a smaller portion on the north end.

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Donald Judd, the Arena, 1980-1987. Permanent collection, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas_© Photo by Florian Holzherr

10. Judd Foundation: Restored Studio 101 Spring Street, New York

In 1968, Judd bought 101 Spring Street, a five-story cast-iron building in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. The structure, which was built in 1870 and served as his house and studio, exhibits his Minimalist style. The building has been termed the “birthplace of the permanent installation” since it features Judd’s furniture designs and other artwork. 

The rectangular shapes that dominate the inside, such as the tables, window frames, and therefore the planks of wood that structure the ground and ceiling, are intriguing reflections of the grid-like patterns that make up the buildings and windows of lower Manhattan.

As Judd put it, “Art and architecture, as well as the rest of the humanities, do not have to exist in isolation as they do today. The flaw is highly important in this culture. Architecture is nearly extinct, yet it, along with art, all of the humanities, and, indeed, all aspects of society, must be re-joined and re-joined as they have never been before.” The studio is currently one of the places where the Judd Foundation exhibits Judd’s work.

The top-floor bedroom features, from left, an early Judd wall piece; Claes Oldenburg’s Light Fixtures at La Coupole (1964); a sleeping platform designed by Judd; a 19th-century Italian settee; and a Dan Flavin fluorescent work which mirrors the cast-iron windows that line the Mercer Street side of the building. _© Photography Stefan Ruiz

References

Blumberg, N., 2021. Donald Judd | Biography, Art, Furniture, Architecture, Minimalism, Marfa, & Facts. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Donald-Judd> [Accessed 20 June 2021].

Cohen, A., 2021. Donald Judd on How to Be an Artist. [online] Artsy. Available at: <https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-donald-judd-artist> [Accessed 20 June 2021].

Judd Foundation. 2021. Judd Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://juddfoundation.org/> [Accessed 20 June 2021].

Judd, D., 2021. Donald Judd Biography – Donald Judd on Artnet. [online] Artnet.com. Available at: <http://www.artnet.com/artists/donald-judd/biography> [Accessed 20 June 2021].

Smith, W., 2021. Minimalist Donald Judd’s Collected Writings and Interviews – ARTnews.com. [online] Artnews.com. Available at: <https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/donald-judd-moma-retrospective-writings-interviews-1202679192/> [Accessed 20 June 2021].

Author

Oumaima is an architect and a spatial planning student passionate about arts, cultures and everything in between. She is a constant learner and a striver for continual growth, who spends most of her time, gathering inspirations, writing rad thoughts, exploring stories throughout architecture and putting colorful poems on paper & canvas.

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