Donald Judd - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, 1990
    Christie's, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, February 6, 2008, lot 31
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The rectangular plane is given a life span…the sense of singleness also has a duration, but it is only beginning...”

    DONALD JUDD, 1965

    As his late work swelled to an increasingly inventive crescendo with its use of colored plexiglass and reflective, anodized aluminum, Donald Judd demonstrated a mastery of form and material that he had endeavored to perfect for nearly 25 years. Executing his first “stacks” in 1965, Judd developed his vertical progressions in his work for the following decades until his death in 1994. Judd’s stacks represent a colossal breakthrough for the artist in that he had found a seminal contribution to art history that would define his career. While uniformity among his stacks had been their defining characteristic earlier in his career, here we find Judd exploring the interplay of interior space and color—engendering variegation within a given structure. While his earlier works displayed an “activated space”—eloquently establishing spatial organization with their equality—Untitled (88-27 Menziken), 1988 possesses a multitude of activated spaces within it, where the core significance of the work exists both in its grand totality and its poignant minutiae.

    Judd’s revelation, and his true path to international recognition, lies in his groundbreaking 1965 essay “Specific Objects”. The essay has since gained a central role in art criticism for its passionate argument against the forms of the past. Advocating true innovation in American Art, Judd advocates for work devoid of the influence of the past. It was here that coined the term “specific object,” free from the confining labels of sculpture or painting. But Judd’s revolutionary ideas were not based solely in non-conformity; rarely has there been an artist so devoted to his work itself as to believe in the inherent integrity of each piece, its discrete meaning and importance. To allow a piece to fall into the painting or sculpture camp, Judd believed, was to belie the necessity of art. Judd saw the way forward as a manipulation and expression of space and light, and while a sculpture or painting could not have this function, a “specific object” could.

    While sculptors had been experimenting with simplistic formations for decades prior to Judd’s work, such as David Smith in his 1956 work Five Units Equal, 1956, Judd’s radical differentiation in style came from the intentional boundaries that he set for each piece: “In attempting to isolate and describe the essential nature of art so that its structure and limits could be determined, Judd had created forms which were simple, declarative, and unambiguous. Their specificity of shape, material, and color reflected his conclusions about the limited nature of the truth that art legitimately could communicate. To expunge all implications of an a priori cosmic scheme, Judd restricted himself to the objective facts of color, form, surface, and texture since only these could be trusted. A focus on concrete materiality replaced metaphor and allusion”(B. Haskell, Donald Judd, New York, 1988, p. 38).

    While Judd’s stacks of the early 1960s were mostly uniform with respect to each individual unit, and often similar to each as a whole, he began to branch out during the 1970s and 1980s, finding materials that were more conducive to the exploration of light and space. As colored Plexiglas became part of his repertoire of media, Judd’s work became pronouncedly more ebullient, with separate boxes often assuming differing colors. In addition, as Judd began to incorporate anodized aluminum into his work, hollowing out the faces of his structures, his intentional artistic boundaries remained the same but encased far more contrapuntal interplays of color and structure.

    In the current lot, Untitled (88-27 Menziken), 1988, Judd has once more revolutionized his concept of space and light through making each unit of his stacking structure an individual “specific object” in itself. Named for the place of its composition, the piece’s vertical composition of six separate boxes arranged in a vertical scheme towers before the viewer. Yet Judd’s intentional disharmony with regard to uniformity in his units posits a conundrum for the observer: which unit is the most interesting in its play of green Plexiglas and silver aluminum? By instituting this material variation in the three-dimensional work, one’s appreciation expands from delighting in Judd’s spatial play to admiring the widening format in which the spatial play manifests itself. Judd’s piece becomes, then, not only a study of the interaction of materials and the space that they create or destroy, but of the impact of the very crucial element of light and reflection, in a series of six variations.

    Green, as a reflective chromatic choice, has proven to be a favorite of Judd’s in his past work. We can see in his earlier work the necessity for the color because of its structural rarity, both in architecture and contemporary sculpture. Untitled (Stack), 1967, presents a set of twelve closed boxes arranged vertically, each 9 inches in height, and set nine inches apart. While this piece was a precursor to the present lot in terms of its color, there are several key differences that speak to Judd’s development as an artist and an explorer of space both negative and positive.

    Although Judd’s structural materials in Untitled (Stack), 1967, share with the present lot an exposition of color, they differ in terms of manipulating light and addressing interiority of volume. While he employed iron and lacquer in the former, resulting in a variegated surface allowing for limited reflectivity, Untitled (88-27 Menziken), 1988 uses Judd’s updated materials of aluminum, a substance perfect for the marriage of spatial reflectivity and unpretentious structural integrity. This raises the question: why would Judd not use stainless steel in his specific object? Wouldn’t that increase the reflectivity of the interior space, allowing a more satisfying viewing experience for the viewer? The answer to this is in the nature of aluminum as a medium; Judd chooses to use iron and aluminum because of their material modesty. In fact, in his entire oeuvre, Judd uses only the most readily available materials possible, such as cement, cor-ten steel, and wood. It is his intentional statement on the necessity of space and construction as opposed to the material opulence.

    While this contrast highlights Judd’s career progression in his materials, it pales in comparison to his advances in exploring the inner life of his creations. The present lot, in its six-unit formation, provides a different experience for the viewer in each individual unit. The top three units, though identical in their three-part partitioning, feature a variation in the placement of their internal walling. While the top unit possesses green Plexiglas at the back of its right two chambers, allowing a minimal amount of colored reflection, the second unit from top inverts this walled relationship, as the Plexiglas is featured at the front of the right two chambers and the left chamber remains hollow. Positioned above a unit identical to the top unit, the second object from top creates an inverted effect from its counterparts, encouraging the viewer to explore the differences between the two types of Judd’s top unit.

    The bottom three units, however, are functional studies in symmetry, the negative space of the middle unit between them being the correlative outlier in their relationship to each other. In these three units, the variation between the walled interiors presents the same, if not more compelling, visual experience for the viewer, since the units are closer to eye level. These few variations on a theme in the midst of the same work make the present lot a study in Judd’s evolving sense of adventure, where variegated interior spaces can achieve a greater specificity than closed units.

    In “Specific Objects,” Judd was orthodox in his definitions of finding a quality within a single piece. He demonstrates a quality using historical example: “A work needs only to be interesting. Most works finally have one quality. In earlier art the complexity was displayed and built the quality. In recent painting the complexity was in the format and the few main shapes, which had been made according to various interests and problems. A painting by Newman is finally no simpler than one by Cézanne. In the three-dimensional work, the whole thing is made according to complex purposes, and these are not scattered but asserted by one form. It isn't necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting. The main things are alone and are more intense, clear and powerful.” (“Specific Objects”, Arts Yearbook 8, 1965, p. 4)

    In his early work, Judd found it sufficient to employ one shape for each unit of his stacks. This alone was necessary to imbue his art with a sense of integrity; on the other hand, to embellish his work was to strip it of its honesty. But in the present lot, we find Judd going back on his word with respect to complexity—here, the multiple units unfold into multiple qualities and Judd creates a complexity while maintaining integrity in his specific object. Undeniably “intense, clear, and powerful,” Untitled (88-27 Menziken), 1988 is a perfect example of Judd’s masterful ability to evolve and revise; yet it is also a demonstration of his highly principled artwork—a perfect marriage of form and honesty.

  • Artist Biography

    Donald Judd

    American • 1928 - 1994

    Donald Judd came to critical acclaim in the 1960s with his simple, yet revolutionary, three-dimensional floor and wall objects made from new industrial materials, such as anodized aluminum, plywood and Plexiglas, which had no precedent in the visual arts. His oeuvre is characterized by the central constitutive elements of color, material and space. Rejecting the illusionism of painting and seeking an aesthetic freed from metaphorical associations, Judd sought to explore the relationship between art object, viewer and surrounding space with his so-called "specific objects." From the outset of his three-decade-long career, Judd delegated the fabrication to specialized technicians. Though associated with the minimalist movement, Judd did not wish to confine his practice to this categorization.


    Inspired by architecture, the artist also designed and produced his own furniture, predominantly in wood, and eventually hired a diverse team of carpenters late in his career.

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Untitled (88-27 Menziken)

anodized aluminum, green Plexiglas, in 6 parts
each 19 3/4 x 39 x 19 3/4 in. (50.2 x 99.1 x 50.2 cm.)
Each imprinted "DONALD JUDD 88-27 A" through "DONALD JUDD 88-27 F" respectively on the reverse; each further imprinted "ALUMINUM AG MENZIKEN" on the reverse.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,165,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM