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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York
    Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Art, Part II, May 1, 1991, lot 140
    Private Collection
    Gallery Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
    Sprüth Magers, London
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Sunderland, Northern Centre of Contemporary Art, Three American Sculptors: Andre, Judd, LeWitt, April 4 - June 3, 1989

  • Literature

    P. Schjeldahl, Art of Our Time: Vol. 1, London, 1984, pl. 31 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I am very interested in the materials as materials, for themselves, for the qualities they have, and retaining that quality, not losing it.” Donald Judd, 1989

    Perhaps the most renowned master of minimalist form, Donald Judd’s innovative vision of the interplay of color and light in industrial material transformed traditionally held theories of the abstract. Renouncing the label of the minimalist school, Judd’s endeavor to reimagine the two-dimensional canvas in a simple yet commanding aesthetic was beholden to the evolving dialogue between the spatial relationships of constituent elements and the colorful media in which his artistic objective was realized. Untitled (Bernstein 81-4) from 1981 is but the material manifestation of these otherwise painterly concerns – a monument to spectral beauty reflected in the mechanical yet ethereal composition of the Bernstein box.

    Approaching the creation of his wall boxes with careful subtlety in the phrasings of proportion and interior space, Judd refused to imbue his materials with meaning beyond their elemental force. Speaking to his concern with the adaptation of the flat medium to the sculptural, in his seminal 1965 essay “Specific Objects,” the artist noted, “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…” (in Arts Yearbook 8, 1965) In conflating the spatial illusionism of color and form, Judd articulated a powerful commentary on the future of contemporary art, anticipating both the incorporation and reinterpretation of industrial and found materials, and their power as singular instruments in the orchestra of the artistic composition.

    Refuting the representational aspects of the industrial media he employed, Judd’s early adoption of sheet aluminum – a medium then new to the artistic community – was in direct relation to his belief that the material and spatial whole were created in tandem with a temporal and psychological dimension integral to the abstract idiom. Dissolving the symbolic intent of line and color, Judd, in Untitled (Bernstein 81-4), elaborated upon what he perceived as the limited spatial realization of the canvas: “Almost all paintings are spatial in one way or another….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.” (“Specific Objects,” in Arts Yearbook 8, 1965) In Untitled (Bernstein 81-4), Judd extends his understanding of the industrial medium, incorporating unusually opulent copper sheets in a warm, radiating marriage of the bronze patina and its embrace of a singular sheet of royal blue Plexiglas.

    Judd’s selection of the copper box, rather than his typical aluminum sheets, utilized in the four Bernstein boxes in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, also from 1981, illustrates the artist’s willingness to experiment with the form and function of his industrial materials and the resulting simple yet spectral beauty. In an interview with John Coplans, Judd carefully explained his exploration of various media:

    The box with the plexiglas inside is an attempt to make a definite second surface. The inside is radically different from the outside. While the outside is definite and rigorous, the inside is indefinite. The interior appears to be larger than the exterior. The plastic is very slippery in look….But I like to try other things to see what happens to the shape and surface. Also, I like to try different colors on the same form by using different materials. (Donald Judd: Selected Works 1960-1991, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama and The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, 1999, p. 162)

    Capturing the infinite in seemingly finite, linear form, Judd elevates his industrial sheets and sharp, geometric edges to a visual monument to the transcendent power of precision in the dissolution of form. Angular in structure, the interplay of this Bernstein’s burnt umber and cobalt elements refract a new light, creating a fourth dimension of the illusory pictorial plane.

    Sliced and divided by Judd’s central copper panel, angled to create optically enticing, depth-defying spatial fields, Untitled (Bernstein 81-4) is a bold and beautiful embodiment of the artist’s most enduring theoretical concerns – namely, the ability of his manufactured shape and color to generate light and space. Unequivocally modern and unapologetically conceptual, Judd’s theorization of art as the intangible is perhaps best reflected in these copper works; the rich, almost jewel-like copper patina only enhances our understanding of his simultaneously concrete and ephemeral work. In Untitled (Bernstein 81-4), Judd’s definite visual object is subsumed by the apparitional aesthetic, where color and medium diffuse form in a poetic manifestation of the illusory experience.

  • 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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Ο19

Untitled (Bernstein 81-4)

1981
copper and blue plexiglas
19 5/8 x 39 3/8 x 19 5/8 in. (50 x 99.8 x 50 cm)
Stamped "JO JUDD 81-4 Bernstein Bros., Inc." on the reverse.

Estimate
$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,445,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 13 November 2014 7pm