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  • Provenance

    Private collection; Sprüth and Magers, Munich; Private collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    Abiding to rigorously pristine geometric criteria and shimmering with brilliant color, Donald Judd’s Untitled (77/23 - Bernstein), 1977 finely encapsulates the cool, minimalist aesthetic that hailed a radically new direction for modern sculpture in the 1960s. One of the artist’s iconic “stacks,” as they have been known, the vertical progression of standardized structures realized in galvanized steel and opaque blue Plexiglas is emblematic of a purely unambiguous, non-referential art, devoid of mimetic content or subjective reflections of the artist. Judd investigates and reveals in the present work the fundamental essence of its formal qualities. With its emphasis on logic and reductive, industrial surfaces existing in their own right, the present lot stands as a powerful testimony to the artist’s stringent, complex philosophy.
    “Although he has eliminated various kinds of illusion from his work in order to make these formal qualities as strong as possible, there remains an illusion of a different sort. It is the illusion, the inspiration, which characterizes a certain kind of abstract art, that everything can be as strong, as clear, as free as the work itself. The illusion is contained, like the red glow of the copper box, within an artificial, aesthetic context; it refers most of all to its own nature and the nature of art, but it nonetheless instructs us about the value of freedom in general. Like all great art, Judd’s work gives us a strength that we use, and seek elsewhere,” (B. Smith, Donald Judd, Ottawa, 1975, p. 30).
    Donald Judd executed his first “stacks” work in 1965; the development of his vertical progressions occupied his work for the following 30 years. The stacks imposed a breakthrough for the artist – the works in turn became the symbol of Minimalism. Industrial materials undermined the formerly practiced concept that the artist’s hand must be present in the aesthetic realization of a piece. Uniformity of the individual units is repeated in the separating spaces. The vacancy translates as activated space – eloquently defining the organization of space from the floor upwards. The interaction of individual parts and a given environment creates the core significance of the work.
    Judd began to make a new form of art that evaded labels and categorizations such as “sculpture” or “painting.” Of fundamental importance to the post-1965 “new art” was an emphasis on color as an intrinsic quality devoid of separation from its inherent material. The blue of the Plexiglas in the present lot is a beautifully deep contrast to the surrounding space of the white wall, creating a meditative ambiance for the industrial structure. A 1:1 arithmetic progression forms a basis for the vertically escalating composition.
    Donald Judd’s influential essay entitled “Specific Objects,” originally published in 1965, reshapes the course of Modern Art as it nominally refers to progressive art of the era as “specific objects.” Judd’s essay provided a basis of validity for himself and his contemporaries. Work of an array of artists including Sol LeWitt,Tony Smith, and Carl Andre was supported by the groundbreaking essay. Judd’s “stacks” series, as evidenced by the present lot, exemplifies the theoretical discussions forming the basis of thecareer of an artist holding the role of one of the most influential voices of the twentieth century.
    Judd’s proclaimed new art was not an effort to create opposition to previous art; the new art held relevance only within the context of itself. “It's not like a movement; anyway, movements no longer work; also, linear history has unraveled somewhat. The new work exceeds painting in plain power, but power isn't the only consideration, though the difference between it and expression can't be too great either. There are other ways than power and form in which one kind of art can be more or less than another” (Ibid). Judd continues his argument to state, “But this work which is neither painting nor sculpture challenges both. It will have to be taken into account by new artists. It will probably change painting and sculpture” (Ibid, p.1).
    The present lot supports and illustrates the concepts presented by Judd in his ground-breaking essay. The work classifies as neither sculpture nor painting – it is an architectural element inhabiting an environment. Existing as an object within the personal, real space of the viewer, no claims of pictorial illusion are presented or attempted - the piece stands for exactly what it is – a specific object occupying space within the same realm as the person viewing. Such a distinction of the delineation of real and imaginary space builds upon a concept that separates Minimalism from the surrounding movements of art.
    Judd’s “Specific Objects” was an attempted elimination of a pictorial illusion within the canvas. Riddance of the picture created a flat approach to painting; the eye stopped on the surface on the canvas, rather than searched for an imaginary depth. Judd writes, “Almost all paintings are spatial in one way or another. Yves Klein's blue paintings are the only ones that are unspatial, and there is little that is nearly unspatial, mainly Stella's work. It's possible that not much can be done with both an upright rectangular plane and an absence of space. Anything on a surface has space behind it.Two colors on the same surface almost always lie on different depths” (Ibid, p. 2). Such development allowed for the transition into the new art of the mid-1960s.
    “The new work obviously resembles sculpture more than it does painting, but it is nearer to painting. Most sculpture is like the painting which preceded Pollock, Rothko, Still and Newman. The newest thing about it is its broad scale. Its materials are somewhat more emphasized than before. The imagery involves a couple of salient resemblances to other visible things and a number of more oblique references, everything generalized to compatibility. The parts and the space are allusive, descriptive and somewhat naturalistic. Higgins' sculpture is an example, and, dissimilary, Di Suvero's. Higgins’” (Ibid, p. 2).
    Accompanying Donald Judd in his execution of the new work are his contemporaries including Dan Flavin and Carl Andre. Both artists exemplify Judd’s proclaimed importance of material to the work. The oeuvre of Flavin, for instance, would not be able to function or have the ability to exist in any other material – the works are dependent upon the fluorescent lighting from which they are made.The concept of the work, however, lies beyond its physical nature. Ambiance created in works such as the diagonal of May 25,1963 directly relates to the atmospheric quality of the present lot. Within both works, the space surrounding the work is as quintessentially important as the piece itself.
    “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” (Ibid, p. 4).
    Donald Judd’s “stacks” shaped the evolution of art in the mid 1960s. The present lot is exemplary of stylistic choices intrinsic with the oeuvre of Donald Judd and his contemporaries. Judd proves through his works and his writings to be one of the most influential and thought-provoking artists of the twentieth century.
    “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).

  • Artist Biography

    Donald Judd

    American • 1928 - 1994

    Donald Judd came to critical acclaim in the 1960s with his deceptively 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, eschewing any trace of the artist’s hand. Though associated with the minimalist movement, Judd rejected the term and did not wish to confine his practice to this categorization. 

    After moving to Marfa in 1972, he began drawing plans for the Chinati Foundation, an exhibition space which opened in 1986 to showcase his objects as well as the work of other contemporary artists and is still operating today. In 2020, his revolutionary career was celebrated in a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

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15

Untitled (77/23 - Bernstein)

1977
Stainless steel and blue Plexiglas in 10 parts.
Each: 6 x 27 x 24 in. (15.2 x 68.6 x 61 cm). Overall: 114 x 27 x 24 in. (289.6 x 68.6 x 61 cm).
Stamped “JUDD 77-23 Bernstein Bros. Inc.” on the reverse of each.

Estimate
$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for $3,218,500

Contemporary Art Part I

13 Nov 2008, 7pm
New York