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  • Literature

    Jörg Schellmann 177-186

  • Catalogue Essay

    It was with ambivalence that Donald Judd first approached the woodcut medium in 1953. The physical, messy nature of carving the wood initially caused trepidation for an artist who did not like to work with his hands or fuss with tools. Yet the woodcut medium afforded Judd a crucial moment of artistic experimentation. His drawings and lithographs up to this point had included flowing lines and blended colours, but the hard birch woodcuts allowed only sharp, clean lines. Judd was thereby encouraged to graduate from his initial figurative experimentations of 1953, to briefly engage with the organic, abstract shapes of 1955-1960, before reaching the clarity and power of the parallelograms of 1961.

    The straight lines of these shapes however, are difficult to create in wood, requiring cuts across the grain that surpassed Judd’s skills and tools, and so he turned to his woodworking father, Roy for assistance. Prior to his father’s involvement, Judd would carve the wood himself before printing one or two copies. It was a process of thinking with his hands - thinking through doing. Once he had relinquished the labour of cutting the wood, Judd was able to take a step back, to isolate the ideas in his head from the making process, which now required translation and became more deliberate.

    Together, father and son embarked on a collaborative printmaking venture that would free Judd from the burden of making and allow his woodcuts to evolve into the mature rectilinear forms we present in the following two lots [59 and 60].

    No longer limited by his own carpentry skills, Judd worked prolifically throughout the 1960s on a series of geometric woodcut iterations that focused on the binary. He tested various thicknesses of line and modification of shape, with the cut of the wood dictating an either/or situation: either wood (colour) or line (blank paper). However, it is not until 1986, with Judd’s production of four woodcuts for the portfolio For Joseph Beuys that the artist departs from the series of parallelograms, and we see a true visual predecessor to the present two lots.

    Those four woodcuts depict a single field of coloured ink, matching the rectangular shape of the paper. The series was something of a declaration in its simple, yet uncompromising celebration of colour. As Marietta Josephus Jitta stated, "In his graphical work, [this] series is continually referred to as the basis for new research on the flat surface."

    This continued reference is demonstrated with lot 60: Untitled, 1988-90, where Judd plays with yellow and orange hues to create positive and negative pairs of this initial rectangle of colour. There is a vital physicality to this set of woodcuts, which can be considered analogous to Judd’s three-dimensional objects in that an inner volume and an outer frame have been transferred onto flat paper.

    With lot 59: Untitled, 1988 however, Judd pushed his spatial experimentations further, creating a sequence of works that elaborate upon the possibilities for dividing pictorial space. The series itself is formed of five sets of pairs, each one the direct inverse of the other, alternating richly inked solids and paper voids. The pairs are then rhythmically subdivided into halves and thirds, creating numerous possibilities of space for the viewer to inhabit.

    In his 1958 book The Poetics of Space, French philosopher Gaston Bachelard described the lived experience of space, surmising that "it is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality." Despite his choice of medium, Judd’s divisions of pictorial space are not hard-edged, prescriptive boxes confining the viewer’s eye to the paper surface and the inked borders. Instead, his meticulous divisions and subdivisions can be read as the start of pattern that hints towards endless repetition. The viewer is invited to choose which rectangle to visually inhabit, and to imagine the numerous possibilities of space created by a single colour, and just a few, elegant and precisely carved lines.

  • 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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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE RHINELAND COLLECTION

59

Untitled

1988
The complete set of 10 woodcuts in black, on Okawara paper, the full sheets, with colophon, loose (as issued) contained in the original fabric-covered portfolio.
portfolio 86 x 67 x 2 cm (33 7/8 x 26 3/8 x 0 3/4 in.)
All signed and numbered 9/25 in pencil on the reverse (there were also 10 artist's proofs), published by Brooke Alexander Editions, New York.

Estimate
£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £137,500

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London Auction 25 January 2018