In Donald Judd's seminal treatise on color he expressed: "Material, space, and color are the main aspects of visual art. Everyone knows that there is material that can be picked up and sold, but no one sees space and color" (Donald Judd, "Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular (1993)," in Flavin Judd and Caitlin Murray, Eds., Donald Judd Writings, New York, 2016, p. 264). It is these two elusive elements of art—space and color—that Donald Judd explored throughout his career, first a painter, then art critic, and eventually, and most notably, a sculptor. By reducing the complex visual world around us to its essence of space and color, Judd successfully allows us to focus our attention more sharply.
Judd’s official immersion in color took place at the Art Students League of New York in the early 1950s, where the history of painting initially piqued his interest, rather than sculpture. Judd often looked to the Minimalist painter Josef Albers, who founded his demanding study of color on the transformation of personal observation: “If one says ‘Red’ (the name of a color) and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And we can be sure that all these reds will be very different” (Josef Albers, The Interaction of Color, New Haven 1963, p. 270). There is a certain tension between the art’s durable and ephemeral properties: the compounding qualities build upon sequences of experience like in Josef Albers' paintings, and whose invention Judd explained as “a multiplicity all at once that I had not known before.” Unlike his Modernist predecessors such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, who identified with the Bauhaus ideology and believed that “colors always produce the same emotions,” Judd felt that colors were much more ambiguous; the emotional state that is associated with a specific color is hardly predictable. In that respect therein lies Judd’s motive to avoid isolating an evocative color such as red, for it would then be more likely to “color” the response to the object that bore it. Although color is highly dependent on the physical reality of wavelengths in the visible light spectrum, it, like other aspects of perception, is a property of the brain, not of the world outside.
Twenty years beyond Judd’s assessment of Albers’ theory would take him to 1983, when he was becoming increasingly involved with work in multicolored enameled aluminum. Untitled is an astute example in which Judd’s ability to exploit the separation between form and color, while consciously giving up form to emphasize line and color, enables the viewer to dedicate more of the brain’s limited attentional resources to pattern. This pattern that Judd created “intelligently without being ordered” is quintessentially portrayed. The present work was executed in 1985 and is composed of eight units of bent, enameled aluminum. The shape of the metal boxes is simple as the boxes are only meant to be carriers of color. Measuring 11 7/8 by 47 by 11 7/8 inches, Untitled greatly occupies space and eloquently embodies the attitude of Minimalism by combining the material-oriented aesthetic with the preciousness of symbolism. In this sequence, Judd used five colors from the RAL color matching system: black red (3007 Schwartzrot), black blue (5004 Schwarzblau), traffic red (3020 Verkehrsrot), turquoise blue (5018 Turkisblau), and melon yellow (1028 Melonengelb). These colors that are paired together never lose themselves in the whole, but rather remain magnificently and unchangeably themselves. The rhythmic balance of the colors elevates Judd’s importance of the overall coherence of the color progression, which is why he conceived it as a whole.
In the modern era it was largely Henri Matisse who liberated color, freeing it from form and thereby demonstrating that colors and color combinations can exert unexpectedly profound emotional effects. The emotional power of Minimalist art enhances and complicates the viewer’s experience. Judd argued that “more than the so-called form, or the shapes, color is the most powerful force.” To Judd, color is an immediate sensation, an absolute phenomenon. Early in Judd’s career, Minimalism was generally described in terms of reduction and absence, as being cold and impersonal, color was a factor seldom taken properly into account. Judd’s use of color was therefore seen as “startlingly sensuous, almost voluptuous.” (Rosalind Krauss, 1966) Rather than reduction and absence, a complexity and richness, above all in Judd's brilliant use of color, is evident in Untitled (85-24). The artist engages color like he engaged the world, and the results are equally breathtaking and surprising. From this process, Judd created this stunning work of art, remarkable for its confluence of clarity and sheer beauty. We have been slow to embrace art based on color, however we understand today that Judd’s refined and striking wall series of blocks emphasizes the evocative role of the elements space and color. The clearer and more definite these relationships are, the clearer and more definite the work of art.
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