Donald Judd - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    Locksley Shea Gallery, Minneapolis
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Brydon Smith, Donald Judd: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Objects, and Wood-Blocks 1960-1974, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1975, no. 136, p. 173

  • Catalogue Essay

    "The sense of objects occurs with forms that are near some simple, basic, profound forms you feel. These disappear when you try to make them into imaginable visual or tactile forms. The reference to objects gives them a way to occur." –Donald Judd

    Donald Judd’s untitled is a rare four-unit example of the artist’s iconic bullnose wall progressions, one of only two grey-scale galvanized iron versions of this unique form. As each positive segment becomes longer by half an inch from left to right, the negative spaces in between become correspondingly smaller, giving the series to which this work belongs the “wall progression” name. Untitled represents the culmination of a development of wall progressions beginning with the original bullnose 1964 prototype, initially crafted from lacquered red wood. Judd followed this model with his galvanized iron form in red lacquer in 1965, making the present work – constructed in dappled grey galvanized iron – representative of the second wave of Judd’s wall progression series. Executed in 1970, untitled passed directly from Leo Castelli Gallery, New York to Locksley Shea Gallery, Minneapolis, the latter from where Miles and Shirley Fiterman acquired it. Untitled shows that the collectors’ tastes extended well beyond pop, featuring Minimal masterworks like the present work as well.

    Although Judd began his career as a painter, he struggled to cleanse his art from the customs which he considered the grime of art history – composition, illusion, anthropomorphism, oil paint, the flat canvas. By 1964, Judd had abandoned painting altogether, now creating three-dimensional forms which emerged out of the wall, into the public space of the spectator. “Because the nature of three dimensions isn’t set, given beforehand, something credible can be made, almost anything” Judd wrote (Donald Judd, “Specific Objects”, 1965 in Donald Judd: The Complete Writings, 1959-1975, New York, 2015, p. 184). The wall progressions begun in this year were each made by extending a tube along the wall and attaching separate boxes to it. As his work matured, Judd also experimented with the installation of each initial wall progression, deciding that the cantilever behind the object must be hidden to make the object appear to rise sharply from the wall, as if floating free from architectural constraints. Accordingly, the site-specific installation of works such as untitled is as unique as the work itself; precise, individual and sensitive to the work’s horizontal alignment.

    As his practice evolved, Judd increasingly looked to industrial materials for their anonymity and pliability. In 1964 he first commissioned The Bernstein Brothers, a metal-working shop in New York, to cover his sculptures in galvanized iron, as exemplified in the present lot. Unlike other metals, galvanized iron has a painterly quality to its raw, marbled surface, yet – crucially for Judd’s purposes – it is industrial, thereby preventing the viewer from investing the piece with prefixed cultural meanings. The clarity and simplicity of industrial metal is characteristic to Judd’s emphasis on the object itself as art. Judd believed the truth of art to be free from Western pictorial illusionism. Thus, he wanted his objects to be heterogeneous enough to express a unity indifferent to custom or tradition, yet indicative of a larger truth about the universal human psyche.

    Despite its clarity, untitled prompts perceptual questions concerning its arrangement and composition. For example, the object’s smooth metal surface makes it appear to be a solid, bar-like construction incapable of resting on a wall, but closer investigation reveals it to be hollow and light. As David Raskin noted, “Art like Judd’s successfully exposed the drawback of trusting sensations to provide understanding, since it proved that there could never be direct sensory access to reality, which instead waited to be discovered by other analytical means” (David Raskin, “Judd’s Moral Art”, Donald Judd, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2004, p. 80).

    This proportional complexity becomes evident in the mathematical spacing of four units in untitled, which is dominated by semicircular contours protruding out of a rectilinear prism. All elements and intervals in Judd’s wall progressions are ordered according to one of four given mathematical formulas: Fibonacci, arithmetic, geometric and inverse natural numbers. These mathematical schemes create an emotionally and intellectually satisfying sense of unity; like seeing a golden mean in nature, mathematics in Judd’s sculpture constitute a philosophical statement on how and why we find art beautiful in the first place. Yet this apparent assertion of pragmatism and order creates further visual puzzles, since the divergence between units means that it is rarely possible to predict the appearance of the whole work from any given side viewpoint of the sculpture. These optical illusions prove that “reality” is always filtered through the senses, that “meaning… is unintelligible apart from … the semiological conventions of the public space” (Rosalind Kraus, “Sense and Sensibility: Reflections on Post ‘60s Sculpture”, Artforum, vol. 12, no. 3, November 1973, p. 47). Balancing an uncompromising material honesty with a maddening ambiguity, untitled represents the absolute vanguard of radical postmodern sculpture.

  • 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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Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection



galvanized iron
5 x 25 1/2 x 8 5/8 in. (12.7 x 64.8 x 21.9 cm.)
Executed on February 16, 1970.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $1,820,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue