Donald Judd Life and Art Periods

"Three dimensions are real space. That gets rid of the problem of illusionism and of literal space... which is riddance of one of the salient and most objectionable relics of European art."

DONALD JUDD SYNOPSIS

Donald Judd was an American artist, whose rejection of both traditional painting and sculpture led him to a conception of art built upon the idea of the object as it exists in the environment. Judd's works belong to the Minimalist movement, whose goal was to rid art of the Abstract Expressionists' reliance on the self-referential trace of the painter in order to form pieces that were free from emotion. To accomplish this task, artists such as Judd created works comprising of single or repeated geometric forms produced from industrialized, machine-made materials that eschewed the artist's touch. Judd's geometric and modular creations have often been criticized for a seeming lack of content; it is this simplicity, however, that calls into question the nature of art and that posits Minimalist sculpture as an object of contemplation, one whose literal and insistent presence informs the process of beholding.

DONALD JUDD KEY IDEAS

Judd's goal was to make objects that stood on their own as part of an expanded field of image making and that did not allude to anything beyond their own physical presence. As a result, his work, along with that of other Minimalist artists, is often called literalist.
Unlike traditional sculpture, which was placed upon a plinth, thus setting it apart as a work of art, Judd's works stand directly on the floor and as a result, force the viewer to confront them according to their own, material existence.
Judd combined the use of highly finished, industrialized materials, such as iron, steel, plastic, and Plexiglas - techniques and methods associated with the Bauhaus School - to give his works an impersonal, factory aesthetic. This served to separate his pieces from those of the Abstract Expressionists, whose emphasis on the artist's touch gave their images a confessional, personal context.
Judd often presented his work in a serialized manner, a strategy that related to the reality of postwar, consumer culture as well as to the standardization and de-subjectifying nature of identical, multiple forms or systems. The multiple was another way to reinforce their materiality. This method was also seen as a part of a more general tendency toward the democratization of art, that is, to make art more accessible to more people, because it was composed of fabricated parts.
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MOST IMPORTANT ART

TITLE: Untitled (1968)
Untitled(1968)
Artwork Description & Analysis: This work represents one of Judd's early experiments in Minimalism: a freestanding, aluminum rectangle colored with brown enamel. By the 1960s, Judd had abandoned painting, having recognized that, "actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a surface;" that is, he believed that a work that shares three-dimensional space with the beholder calls more attention to itself than an image that is hung on the wall. As an artist, Judd was beginning to recognize the importance of the environment to how a work is perceived. Here, he places a simple, rectangular form directly onto the floor of the gallery so that it demands recognition through its insistent materiality as well as through the fact that it impinges upon the viewer's passage through the space. The work, therefore, exists as an object rather than as something that belongs to the privileged and remote world of art. In this manner, Judd has begun to use a new visual language for three-dimensional form, one that emphasizes the simplicity and physical nature of the piece.

Enamel on aluminum, 55.9 x 127 x 95.3 cm - Guggenheim Museum, NY

  • Untitled(1968)
  • Untitled(1972)
  • Untitled(1973)
  • Untitled(1980)
  • Judd's restored studio(-)
  • Untitled(1984)
  • Untitled(1982-86)
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DONALD JUDD BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Donald Judd was born on June 3, 1928, in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He spent much of his early childhood on his grandparents' farm and continued to live in the Midwest with his parents until they finally settled in New Jersey.

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Early Training

Judd served in the United States Army in Korea and subsequently attended the College of William and Mary, the Art Students League in New York, and Columbia University, where he obtained a B.S. in Philosophy in 1953. He went on to work toward a master's degree in Art History, studying under such well-known scholars as Rudolf Wittkower and Meyer Schapiro. Between 1959 and 1965, he supported himself by writing criticism for major art magazines, such as Art News, and in 1968, he bought a five-story, cast-iron office building in Soho, which served as his New York residence and studio for the next 25 years.

In the late 1940s, Judd practiced as a painter and then shifted to the medium of the woodcut, whose linear qualities helped him move from figuration to abstraction. By the early 1960s, Judd had completely abandoned the two-dimensional picture plane and began to focus on three-dimensional forms in which the notion of materiality played a key role. In 1964, Judd wrote Specific Objects, a manifesto-like essay calling that was manifesto-like in nature, calling for a rejection of the residual, European value of illusionism and advocating an art based upon tangible materials. Judd aligned himself with other artists working in New York, such as John Chamberlain, Jasper Johns, and Dan Flavin, whose work also incorporated non-traditional materials such as found objects, steel, aluminum, and neon lighting. Like Judd, these artists had begun to recognize the physical environment as an intrinsic aspect of the work and that three-dimensional form was the most effective way to address spatial concerns.

Mature Period

Donald Judd Biography

By 1963, Judd's presence on the international art scene was beginning to take hold and his second solo show was held at the Green Gallery in New York. In 1966, the influential dealer Leo Castelli organized what would be the first in a long series of solo exhibitions for the artist, which ensured his prominence in the New York art scene. From 1962 though 1964, Judd worked as an instructor at Brooklyn College. Judd served as a visiting artist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in 1966 before going on to teach sculpture at Yale the following year. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Judd was the recipient of numerous grants and award from such institutions as the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Swedish Institute. In 1968, the Whitney Museum of American Art organized the first retrospective of his work, an event that would establish his importance in the world of contemporary art.

In the early 1970s, Judd began to work on increasingly large and complex pieces, such as large, hollow boxes made of steel or copper, often colored with an enameled surface on the inside, which were placed directly on to the floor. By installing his works in this manner, Judd broke with the traditional manner of exhibiting three-dimensional art, which was usually placed on a plinth. Judd's strategy to erase the distance, both physical and psychological, between object and observer served to redefine this inter-relationship; rather than existing as a discrete work of art, Judd's structures form part of the environment and demand to be experienced as part of the viewer's own phenomenological existence.

Late Years and Death

Donald Judd Photo

In 1971, Judd rented a house in Marfa, Texas, whose desert surroundings resonated with the artist's aesthetic and which would form an antidote to his New York City studio. In 1979, with the help of the Dia Foundation, Judd purchased a 340-acre tract of desert land outside of the town, which included abandoned buildings from the former Army Fort D.A. Russell and on which he founded the Chinati Foundation, which opened in 1986. The landscape in Marfa undoubtedly reminded Judd of his childhood home in Missouri and the wide-open spaces equally resonated with his Minimalist aesthetic. Judd was able to expand his visual language into larger forms, often using aluminum or concrete and integrating the works into the environment. In addition, the development of the Chinati Foundation gave Judd the opportunity to permanently install several large-scale works, according to his own aesthetic standards, as well as to create an exhibition space for other like-minded practitioners. In 1984 he also started to design furniture and expanded his materials to include anodized aluminum and acrylic.

The artist died of lymphoma on February 12, 1994, in New York.

DONALD JUDD LEGACY

Donald Judd was a leader of the Minimalist movement and as such, helped to create an appreciation for the clean lines and uncluttered spaces often favored in interior design. By establishing the Chinati Foundation, Judd established a space that now serves as a museum, artist residency, and research center. In 1976, Judd began to turn his attention beyond Marfa and purchased land in Presidio County close to the Mexican border, where he developed his ideas on rural architecture and land conservation, which have influenced practitioners in this area. Judd's writings are, to this day, seen as the most comprehensive statement of Minimalist art; his work both defined a new lexicon of sculptural concerns and contributed to a revised notion of the process of beholding.

Original content written by The Art Story Contributors
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DONALD JUDD QUOTES

"Well, I am not interested in the kind of expression that you have when you paint a painting with brush strokes. It's all right, but it's already done and I want to do something new. I didn't want to get into something which is played out and narrow. I want to do as I like, invent my own interests. Of course, that doesn't mean that people who, like Newman, still paint are worn out. But I think that's a particular kind of experience involving a certain immediacy between you and the canvass, you and the particular kind of experience of that particular moment. I think what I'm trying to deal with is something more long range than that in a way, more obscure perhaps, more involved with things that happen over a longer time perhaps. At least it's another area of experience."

"It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again. Somewhere a portion of contemporary art has to exist as an example of what the art and its context were meant to be. Somewhere, just as the platinum iridium meter guarantees the tape measure, a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place."

Donald Judd

Donald Judd Influences

Interactive chart with Donald Judd's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Dan Flavin
Dan Flavin
Dan Flavin was an American artist best known for his Minimalist constructions of color and light. Often using nothing more than a few dozen fluorescent bulbs for his work, Flavin was a crucial figure in the Minimalism of the 1960s and '70s. His light installations altered the physical exhibition space, and were designed as experiential art rather than visual art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Dan Flavin
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman was an Abstract Expressonist painter in New York who painted large-scale fields of solid color, interrupted by vertical lines or "zips." His sometimes narrow or boxy canvases, part painting and part sculpture, were influential for Minimalism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Barnett Newman
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neoplasticism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Piet Mondrian
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist painter whose early interest in mythic landscapes gave way to mature works featuring large, hovering blocks of color on colored grounds.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Mark Rothko
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Marcel Duchamp
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Frank Stella is an American artist whose geometric paintings and shaped canvases underscore the idea of the painting as object. A major influence on Minimalism, his iconic works include nested black and white stripes and concentric, angular half-circles in bright colors.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Frank Stella
John Chamberlain
John Chamberlain
John Chamberlain is best known for his sculptures made of crushed and twisted automobile parts, works that bring the formal qualities of Abstract Expressionist painting into three dimensions.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information John Chamberlain
Leo Castelli
Leo Castelli
Leo Castelli was an American art collector and gallery owner. His Castelli Gallery in New York, which opened in 1957, held several groundbreaking shows that revealed to the art world works by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Castelli's gallery was considered an early proving ground for Neo-Dada, Pop, and Minimalist art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Leo Castelli
Michael Fried
Michael Fried
Michael Fried is an American art critic and historian who gained acclaim for his ideas on "theatricality" in art. Fried applied this idea to the artistic style Minimalism, which he believed negatively blurred the boundaries between natural art forms and non-art objects.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Michael Fried
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Abstract Expressionism
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Dada
Modernism
Modernism
For all its complexities, Modernism is a term applied to late-nineteenth century and twentieth-century movements - including art, literature, architecture, philosophy, etc. - that promote and postulate the new, free from derivation and historical references. And for the new to be possible, old movements must be altogether adandoned, or in the case of Picasso's Cubism, deconstructed. In these paintings, for example, familair subject matter is taken apart, laid out, and thus seen from an entirely new perspective.

Modern Art Information Modernism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism was the guiding philosophy behind the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and many of his peers in the De Stijl circle. Articulated by Mondrian in 1917-18, the approach stipulates the strict use of only horizontal and vertical lines; the primary colors red, yellow, and blue; and white, gray, and black.

Modern Art Information Neo-Plasticism
Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor is an Indian sculptor and conceptual artist. Considered one of the leading contemporary artists working today, Kapoor's work is characterized by its simple and organic forms, and uniformity of tone, such as Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millenium Park.

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Julian Opie
Julian Opie
Julian Opie is an English conceptual and installation artist, and former trustee of the Tate Modern. His work is known for its employment of computerized imagery and forms, often rendered with minimal detail. He is also a pioneer in the use of LED lights for public works of art.

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David Batchelor
David Batchelor
David Batchelor is a Scottish writer and mixed-media artist. He is noted for his assemblages and "light boxes," which often incorporate found objects and industrial scraps.

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Joel Shapiro
Joel Shapiro
Joel Shapiro is an American abstract sculptor. His giant-scale works feature beams, rectangles, and other shapes in balanced formal arrangements and are frequently made of heavy industrial materials.

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Richard Tuttle
Richard Tuttle
Richard Tuttle is an American painter whose work has been charactized as post-minimalist. Tuttle's paintings contain simple shapes, off-center geometric forms, and confront formalist issues of scale and line.

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Thomas Lawson
Thomas Lawson
Thomas Lawson is a Scottish painter, mixed-media artist, writer, and currently the Dean of the Art School at the California Institute for the Arts. His art often incorporates elements of Minimalism and Pop art-like repetition.

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Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Robert Morris is an American artist whose early L-beam and column sculptures were key works in Minimalism. His work also includes felt and fabric pieces, performance, body art, and earthworks, often with an emphasis on process and theatricality.
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Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Minimalism
Post-Minimalism
Post-Minimalism
Post-Minimalism refers to a range of art practices that emerged in the wake of Minimalism in the late 1960s, such as Body art, Performance, Process art, Site-Specific art, and aspects of Conceptual art. Some artists created art objects that do not have the representational function of traditional sculpture, objects that often have a strong material presence; others reacted against Minimalism's impersonality, and reintroduced emotionally expressive qualities.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Minimalism
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Conceptual Art
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Jasper Johns
Untitled
Untitled

Title: Untitled (1968)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This work represents one of Judd's early experiments in Minimalism: a freestanding, aluminum rectangle colored with brown enamel. By the 1960s, Judd had abandoned painting, having recognized that, "actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a surface;" that is, he believed that a work that shares three-dimensional space with the beholder calls more attention to itself than an image that is hung on the wall. As an artist, Judd was beginning to recognize the importance of the environment to how a work is perceived. Here, he places a simple, rectangular form directly onto the floor of the gallery so that it demands recognition through its insistent materiality as well as through the fact that it impinges upon the viewer's passage through the space. The work, therefore, exists as an object rather than as something that belongs to the privileged and remote world of art. In this manner, Judd has begun to use a new visual language for three-dimensional form, one that emphasizes the simplicity and physical nature of the piece.


Enamel on aluminum, 55.9 x 127 x 95.3 cm - Guggenheim Museum, NY

Untitled
Untitled

Title: Untitled (1972)

Artwork Description & Analysis: By the 1970s, Judd's "specific objects," as he liked to call these box-like forms that sat directly on the floor, had become, despite their sharp edges and flat color, more complex through his exploration of surface and color. The exterior surface is composed of copper, an industrial material, but one whose warm and reflective surface combines with the richness of the wooden floor as it mirrors its environment. The interior is colored with a highly saturated, red enamel that vibrates in its intensity and contrasts with the static nature of the form in its entirety. The red interior also contrasts with the copper, and yet deepens the viewers' experience by encouraging them to think about the relationship between inside and outside and by asking them to consider the effects of different surface values. Here, the sleekness of the red enamel adds to the seductive aspect of the piece, and may suggest some of the objects, like nail polish or cars, that we choose to purchase as consumers. Moreover, this piece is in some ways the polar opposite of the whole anthropomorphizing tendency that viewers have when they look at sculpture -- the tendency for humans to extend the vertical orientation of their own bodies and see human forms in sculpture, which traditionally was vertically oriented. Instead of seeing in the work a reflection of that usual vertical orientation of the human, organic form, here we have a piece that is more horizontal than vertical and contains inside it empty space rather than "insides" (internal organs).


Copper, enamel and aluminum, 916 x 1555 x 1782mm - Tate Modern, London

Untitled
Untitled

Title: Untitled (1973)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This work is comprised of six identical, separate units with equal space in between each one. Although Untitled would seem to be part of a continuum, Judd believed that his works should be "seen as a whole" rather than as a composition of parts, and was convinced that color, shape, and surface created a unitary character; there is no hierarchy of forms or focal point as in more traditional works -- only repetition and rhythm created by the repetition. Here, Judd has begun working with Plexiglas and has combined it with a highly polished, reflective metal -- brass. This juxtaposition gives the viewer two very different experiences; on the one hand, the brass turns the observer's gaze outwards as it doubles both their own image and the space around them, while on the other, the transparent, yet richly colored Plexiglas draws the viewer's attention to the interior of the forms. The photograph of the work as reproduced here has been taken from an angle, but in actuality the viewer has a choice of point of view and distance from the piece. Changing either of these two variables changes the shapes and proportional relationships between the brass surfaces and those of the red Plexiglas. The viewer is also forced to confront the paradox of the unreal distortions reflected in the shiny brass surface versus the insistent reality of the units as things-in-themselves. Although the boxes are no longer placed on the floor, they still exist as objects in space, ones that impinge upon the viewer's own corporeal presence.


Brass and red florescent Plexiglas, 6 units with 8 inch intervals, each unit 86.4 cm - Guggenheim, New York

Untitled
Untitled

Title: Untitled (1980)

Artwork Description & Analysis: By the 1980s, Judd turned to the creation of vertically-suspended stacks whose emphasis on the upright strongly suggests a repetition of the observer's own body, a fact that serves to create a strong and unique relationship between two material presences. The use of two different materials, aluminum and Plexiglas, again offers the viewer two experiences; from the front, the beholder is drawn into the murky depths of space, while from the side, the piece presents itself as opaque forms, jutting into space. Judd, himself, said that his works were, "neither painting nor sculpture" and in this manner, he has created an entirely new vocabulary for art.


Steel, aluminum and Plexiglas, 229 x 1016 x 787 mm

Judd's restored studio
Judd's restored studio

Title: Judd's restored studio (-)

Artwork Description & Analysis: In 1968, Judd purchased 101 Spring Street, a five-story cast iron building located in the Soho area of New York City. The building, constructed in 1870, was his home and studio and reflects his Minimalist aesthetic. As it contains Judd's own furniture designs and other artwork, the space has been dubbed the birthplace of the "permanent installation." It is interesting to note how the rectangular forms that predominate the interior, such as the tables, window frames and the planks of wood that make up the floor and ceiling are reflections of the grid-like forms that comprise the buildings and windows of lower Manhattan. As Judd said, "Art and architecture - all the arts - do not have to exist in isolation, as they do now. The fault is very much the key to the present society. Architecture is nearly gone, but it, art, all of the arts, in fact all parts of society, have to be rejoined and joined more than they have ever been."


- 101 Spring Street, New York, 4th floor

Untitled
Untitled

Title: Untitled (1984)

Artwork Description & Analysis: The 15 concrete works that run along the border of the Chinati's property were the first works to be installed at the museum and were cast over a four-year period from 1980 through 1984. Each unit has the same measurements -- 2.5 x 2.5 x 5 meters -- and thus is large enough to enter. Here, the notion that the environment is an integral aspect of the work is taken to another level, where each box is both a permeable space as well as a monolithic whole. The neutral color of the concrete combines with the earth tones of the Texas plain, and the industrial nature of the forms seem intrinsically related to the abandoned air force base on which they are placed. Inspired, as well, by the Missouri landscape in which the artist was raised, these structures grow naturally out of both Judd's Minimalist aesthetic and from his early childhood years. In this work, he has achieved a full integration of form and space, art and environment.


Concrete - Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

Untitled
Untitled

Title: Untitled (1982-86)

Artwork Description & Analysis: As a G.I., Judd had come across a military site in Marfa, Texas, which he later purchased with the help of the Dia Foundation in New York and which would eventually become the Chinati Foundation. These 100 milled aluminum rectangles form the center of the permanent collection. Each of the 100 rectangular forms, which are spread over two artillery sheds, has the same dimensions, yet the inside of each rectangle is unique. Although the configurations may seem arbitrary, Judd created them with the site in mind; as the viewer moves around the installation and the sunlight shifts throughout the day, the solid, aluminum boxes are transformed into ephemeral pieces and substance gives way to light. This is how the artist wanted these works to be seen. Judd had always been critical of the way his works had been displayed and with the creation of the Chinati, he was finally able to control all aspects of his work.


100 works in mill aluminum - Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.