Donald Judd

Long-term view, Dia Beacon

Overview

On view in these galleries is a focused presentation of Donald Judd’s iconic plywood works from the 1970s, which exemplify the artist’s ability to produce exquisitely complex works by combining essential geometry and common industrial materials. Starting in the 1960s Judd determined a basic vocabulary of materials and forms that he would use throughout his practice, placing simple geometric boxes directly on the floor or spaced evenly along the wall. In forgoing the pedestal, he engages viewers in a bodily experience that happens in real time and space. Judd rejected traditional notions of craftsmanship in favor of an industrial production more true to the nature of his materials, delegating the fabrication of his objects to specialized technicians who followed instructions and sketches provided by the artist.

Dia Beacon Interactive Floor Plan

In the 1960s Donald Judd determined a basic vocabulary of materials and forms that he would use throughout his practice, placing simple geometric boxes directly on the floor or spaced evenly along the wall. In forgoing the pedestal, he engaged viewers in a bodily experience that happened in real time and space. He identified and deployed new industrial materials—such as anodized aluminum, Plexiglas, and plywood—that had no precedent in the visual arts. These were used in the construction of square planes, cubes, and rectangular pipes. Rejecting traditional notions of craftsmanship in favor of an industrial production true to the nature of the materials, Judd delegated the fabrication of his objects to specialized technicians who followed instructions and sketches provided by the artist.

In the 1970s Judd began exploring the contingencies of space and the parameters of perception on broader terms. Comprising fifteen plywood boxes each measuring three feet tall and five feet wide, Untitled (1976) exemplifies his ability to produce diverse sensations of volume and space by combining essential geometry and common industrial materials. At first glance, the viewer recognizes that, while the dimensions of every box are identical, each is unique. In one box the top is recessed; in another the sides withdraw into the box’s interior; in yet another the lid appears suspended. Similarly, Untitled (1976) slowly reveals itself as it is approached. The plywood wall gives way to a sloping plane that divides the gallery into two inaccessible volumes. The work is adapted to the dimensions of each new site, and the given width of the wooden barrier determines the angle of the sloping plane. While resolutely abstract, Untitled is emblematic of Judd’s belief that “actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.”

Rejecting the proscriptions of both painting and sculpture, Judd focused instead on three-dimensional objects, which, he argued, “can have any relation to the wall, floor, ceiling, room, rooms, or exterior or none at all.” Untitled (1975) and Untitled (1991) both consist of a series of wall-mounted boxes that project into space. Avoiding the illusionism of painting, Judd incorporated color into these works through the use of Plexiglas—a material that assimilates color as an inherent rather than superficial quality. Hence in Untitled (1975), a deep-blue Plexiglas sheet forms the back pane of twelve identical stainless-steel boxes, while Untitled (1991) alternates red and blue Plexiglas panes, which are encased in plywood. To avoid any external references, Judd arranged these structures in nonhierarchical order, respectively using line and grid as compositional principles. As a secret always on display, his lucid forms are declaratively simple yet sensually capacious, so that, as the artist stated, “the image, all of the parts, and the whole shape are coextensive.”

Donald Judd was born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, in 1928. He attended Columbia University, studying philosophy from 1949 to 1953 and art history with Meyer Schapiro from 1957 to 1962. At the same time that he launched an impressive career as an art critic and polemicist, he began to produce his earliest paintings. He had forged his mature aesthetic by 1965. The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, organized a retrospective in 1968, and a one-person exhibition was shown at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, in 1975. During his lifetime, Judd received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968 and the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 1987. In 1986 a permanent installation of his work opened at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Judd died in New York in 1994.

1–15. Untitled, 1976
Douglas fir plywood
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of
the Brown Foundation 

16. Untitled, 1976
Douglas fir plywood
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of
Louise and Leonard Riggio

17. Untitled, 1975
Stainless steel and Plexiglass
Dia Art Foundation; Partial gift,
Lannan Foundation, 2013

18. Untitled, 1991
Douglas fir plywood and Plexiglas
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of
Louise and Leonard Riggio

Artist

Donald Judd

Donald Judd was born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, in 1928. He died in New York City in 1994.

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