Distinguished by its pristine surface, elegant form, and commanding presence, Donald Judd’s immaculate sculptural wall piece Untitled (DSS 319) of 1973 is emblematic of the artist’s inimitable career. Spanning six feet in length and projecting more than two feet from its supporting wall, the scale of this work is made all the more striking by its sophisticated façade. Indeed, the highly polished, reflective surface creates the impression that the piece is delicately hovering in space, rendering the physicality of its sheer volume truly remarkable. Unlike some of Judd’s other wall progressions, this work retains an uninterrupted solidity, enhanced by bold, gleaming copper. Its refined minimalism combines form, material, and color with extreme precision to command visual authority. Touting the confidence and triumph of the artist’s mature aesthetic and conceptual dialect, Untitled (DSS 319) is a spectacular example of one of Judd’s most successful and iconic forms.
Instantly recognizable as an archetypal work by this master of Minimalism, the present work represents the culmination of the conceptual and aesthetic concerns that preoccupied Judd at the height of his career. Although Judd disliked the term “Minimalist,” preferring to call himself an “empiricist,” his work was immensely influential on the development of that movement (David Raskin, Donald Judd, 2010, pp. 4-5). His profoundly reduced forms pushed the major artistic narrative of the Twentieth Century – abstraction – to its geometric extreme, like no other artist had. By the late 1960s, he had embraced industrially-made objects, celebrating manufactured materials and uniform shapes, in an attempt to remove all physical traces of the artist’s hand from the making of a work. Reacting against the overly dramatic, personal angst of Abstract Expressionism, Judd’s work privileged predetermined, repetitive, self-contained forms that rejected hierarchical composition, activated negative space, and denied such classifications as painting, sculpture, or architecture, existing instead as pure “objects.”
Among the best-known of these objects were his seminal wall progression works, of which Untitled (DSS 319) is a quintessential example. Projecting outward to engage with the space of the viewer, the work articulates a contrast between the flat plane of the wall and its own three-dimensional physicality. It was Judd’s belief, first developed through his progressions and later in his stacks, that the elucidation of this contrast would itself invoke a wider understanding of the space in which the object was set. With the present work, more organic in its form and color than many other progressions, Judd presents his theory in its purest iteration, focusing the viewer’s awareness on the object itself and its relationship with the space around it. Thus the artist beautifully achieves his central tenet: that the nature of the artwork becomes defined by its own contextual experience.
The use of copper in Untitled (DSS 319) further develops this principle. The seductively uniform and reflective surface catches the viewer’s eye, yet also deflects attention back onto its surroundings, as a distorted image of the space is mirrored on its curved surface, and a coppery refraction is projected onto its supporting wall. When viewed straight on, the dramatic advancement of its metallic form is tempered by the seamless curve of its face, which creates a powerful sensation of depth. Combining the raw industrial muscle of the metallic material with the sensuous organic tactility of its curvilinear form, the reflective copper surface creates a visual play of light and color that excites the eye and entices touch. Despite its monumentality, Untitled (DSS 319) is a sculpture replete with the quiet subtlety that is archetypal of Judd’s revolutionary and cerebral practice.
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