In a remarkably fertile period in the 1960s, Donald Judd determined a basic vocabulary of materials and simple geometric forms that would persist through- out his career. The materials—such as anodized aluminum, galvanized iron, stainless steel, Plexiglas, and plywood—were chosen for their lack of historical baggage and their affordability. Meanwhile, Judd’s preference for geometric forms—such as square planes, cubes, and rectangular pipes—indicated his desire to explore space by means of scale and proportion. In 1964, as he sought a smooth, spotless finish for his works, Judd started working with a variety of specialized technicians who fabricated every piece using instructions and sketches he provided. Criticized by some of his peers for rejecting craftsman- ship, Judd retorted that “whether one makes it oneself or doesn’t, it’s all a case of technique that makes the thing visible . . . I don’t see in the long run why one technique is any more essentially art than another technique.” Judd’s preference for neat, simple geometric surfaces had to do with his rejection of “dramatic” forms and his desire to rid the works of any symbolic trace. The very presence of a cube in space seemed to him full of visual and spatial complexities worth investigating. In that sense, he did not accept the definitions of his work as “minimal” or “reductive” art; he preferred to refer to it as simply “new work.”
Judd’s interest in using art to expand our knowledge of space was based on the early, foundational impression that such knowledge had been barely addressed by modern art. Although originally educated as a painter, Judd moved away from traditional formats toward three-dimensional objects that were “neither painting nor sculpture.” He recurrently explored the traditional, structural connection of the art object to floors (sculptures and pedestals) and walls (paintings). As he created freestanding volumetric works and “boxes” that projected from walls, Judd observed that the connection of painting to wall could be equivalent to that of sculpture to floor. Redefining the relationship between wall and floor not by means of categories such as painting or sculpture, but in terms of orientation, scale, and gravity, Judd’s “specific objects” bring about and connect all surfaces without losing a bit of their consistency. These persisting concerns are clearly illustrated by several works in this gallery. Untitled (slant piece) (1976) reveals its structure as it is approached and the sloping plane—which divides the void into two equal volumes of space—becomes apparent. Untitled (1991) incorporates Plexiglas, a material favored by Judd for the way it assimilates color as an inherent quality rather than a new layer added to the material’s surface.
From the early 1970s onward, Judd engaged with issues of site and presentation and with the problem of created space, as opposed to space treated simply as a surround. Even a first glimpse of Untitled (1976), fifteen cubic boxes in Douglas fir plywood, allows us to recognize that, while the dimensions are identical, each box differs from the others, presenting, in Judd’s words, the opening of a new spatial possibility. This multipartite, serial work presents an open system that could be endlessly expanded. The use of a fine fir plywood allowed Judd to work comfortably with dimensions and shapes that other materials would not easily allow without bending or buckling.
In each of his works, Judd examined issues of similarity and difference, likeness and identity, often applying numerical sequences and mathematical schemes to serial compositions. Three of his “progressions”—all of them untitled and made in 1980—are on view in this gallery. Each of them materializes a different game of lengths and proportions, with gaps or volumes increasing if the object is “read” from left to right or vice-versa. Sometimes values progressively double (1, 2, 4, 8, 16); sometimes they follow arithmetic progression patterns (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13); or alternate addition and subtraction (1, -1/2, +1/3, -1/4). They all test the ways in which relatively simple formulae, some present in nature, translate into visually complex, yet eloquent, volumes. In their progression, these volumes reflect the process that encompasses, for Judd, the singularity of art compared to other forms of production. Art, he said, “is not a special kind of experience or knowledge or, particularly, feeling. It is special in its development and not in its essential nature.”