Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) demonstrates the importance of color as a key element within Judd’s Stacks, an idea articulated in his 1993 treatise, Some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular: “Color, like material, is what art is made from.” (Donald Judd, Some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular, in Exh. Cat., Hannover, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Donald Judd, Colorist, 2000, p. 114) Judd’s discovery of the possibilities of Plexiglas in the mid-1960s allowed him to bring this maxim to the forefront of his artistic practice, allowing for a vastly expanded range of color investigations and combinations. Judd aimed to do away with the artifice of the paint surface, ensuring that the true color of the material remained of primary importance. The work was thus stripped of illusionism and the inherent qualities of the medium were duly celebrated. The brilliant red Plexiglas of the present work is of particular vibrancy and indeed, Judd considered red to be one of the most important colors within the entire spectrum, recollecting childhood associations that were of especial significance: “A pair of colors that I knew of as a child in Nebraska was red and black, which a book said was the ‘favorite’ of the Lakota. In the codices of the Maya, red and black signify wisdom and are the colors of scholars.” (Ibid., p. 116) Red thus seems to symbolize the rigorously intellectual approach to artistic creation that Judd was aiming for, and the use of red in Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) serves to reinforce the immense importance of this particular Stack within the artist’s body of work.
As with other works in the Stack series, the empty space between the different pieces is of equal importance to the physical elements that make up the Stack: the carefully measured distance between each individual component is equal to the height of the parts themselves, ensuring that the space becomes a tangible part of the work in its own right. No longer a void, emptiness becomes instead a positive entity and a key part of the viewer’s perception of the installation. Judd noted the existence of this phenomenon in his treatise: “If two objects are close together they define the space in between. These definitions are infinite until the two objects are so far apart that the distance in between is no longer space. But then the passerby remembers that one was there and another here. The space between can be even more definite than the two objects which establish it; it can be a single space more than the two objects are a pair.” (Ibid., p. 80) Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) celebrates this glorification of empty space, seeming to hover mysteriously above the ground as though lacking any visible means of support.
Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) can be considered as a late masterpiece amongst the artist’s oeuvre, representing the apex of Judd’s creative investigations and developments over a period of thirty years. The first Stacks were made in 1965 out of galvanized iron, followed shortly after by variations in materials including copper, stainless steel, aluminum, brass and Plexiglas, and epitomized the pioneering spirit of the artist as he attempted to forge a wholly original creative language. Although initially trained as a painter, Judd sought to move beyond the concept of sculpture as a work of art, instead creating pieces which could be appreciated for their ‘utility’ as opposed to their aesthetic qualities. This idea was recently analyzed by Ulrich Krempel and Edelbert Köb: “In the early 1960s, Donald Judd discovered a wholly innovative vocabulary of sculptural forms – with which he liberated himself from established notions of what a ‘work’ is. This step was such a radical break, above all with the European tradition, that he even suggested that rather than talking of sculpture any more, one could more accurately describe these works as specific objects. Sculpture was, in the truest sense of the word, toppled from its pedestal.” (Ulrich Krempel and Edelbert Köb in ‘Foreword’ in Ibid., p. 7) The method of construction behind Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) reflects this ideal: Bernstein Bros. was a metalworking company based in Long Island City that had worked with Judd on the creation of his metal pieces since 1964. Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) thus arguably transcends the dictum of ‘art for art’s sake’ in favor of a highly developed investigation into the potentials of form, space, media and color, brilliantly surpassing the conventional limitations imposed by art historical precedent. The Stacks represent Judd’s extraordinary ability to move beyond previously inviolable philosophical and creative ideals towards an entirely new visual realm, one that possesses its own unique signification of exquisite beauty. Ultimately Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) is a truly superb example from a series that continues to astonish due to its epic scale and indisputable visual impact.
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