Donald Judd and the Making of an Object

Donald Judd and the Making of an Object

'P erhaps Judd’s affection for prints has to do with the making of prints as the result of the making of an object—a wooden block in which actual lines and shapes are cut out, a metal plate in which they are etched—and looking at the impression of such an object on a sheet of paper. It is an object with its own precision, its own denseness and colour, transferred to a piece of paper with a different texture, silk like or shiny, transparent or matt, and with its own colour. It also happens that such a woodblock becomes an independent object after the process of the printing.' (Mariette Josephus Jitta, ‘On Series.’)

Donald Judd began making prints early in his career. Between 1951 and 1953, he made a small group of monochromatic lithographs depicting domestic scenes and landscapes, before moving on to what would become his favoured printmaking medium: the woodcut. Though still figurative, his initial investigations into woodcutting reveal the distinct materiality of the medium—the works are made up of angular and robust lines that betray the labour involved in carving the block.

In line with his wider practice, in the 1960s, Judd gradually removed illusionistic references from his prints. As he developed the visual language that came to be known as Minimalism in his three-dimensional works, his prints became progressively abstract and geometrical. Furthermore, every print Judd made after 1961 formed part of a series. They thus explored concepts of seriality and permutation, strategies Judd materialised so famously in his installations of repeated and standardised, industrially-produced objects.

Judd said of prints: ‘I like doing them. And also I can learn something from them. (Quoted in Jitta, ‘On Series.’) As Mariette Josephus Jitta elucidates: ‘These latter words indicate that objects and prints continually interact to give new visual impulses and that in both mediums the memory is maintained of what happens on the paper or what is realised in space.’ (Jitta, ‘On Series.’)

Untitled (S. 102-117) (lot 468) from 1977-78 illustrates this synergy between Judd’s objects and his prints. The series is made up of sixteen etchings depicting slight variations of a hollow rectilinear form. In his seminal 1965 essay, ‘Specific Objects’, Judd declared: ‘It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at … to analyse one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting. The main things are alone and more intense, clear and powerful.’ (Donald Judd, ‘Specific Objects.’) In Untitled (S. 102-117), as in the three-dimensional installations with which he is synonymous, Judd reduces his pictorial language to emphasise only what is immediately visible: complete, singular and unified forms.

A decade later, Judd created Untitled (S. 177-186) (lot 469), a set of ten woodcuts printed in ivory black ink on Okawara paper. Again employing a system of repetition and permutation, the set starts with a basic form (a rectangle that clearly takes its proportions from the shape of the sheet itself), which the artist gradually partitions by admitting sequences of unprinted lines, both vertical and horizontal. The compositions are then reversed—positive space becomes negative—so that the set is made up of five pairs, in which each print is the direct inverse of its counterpart. As Jitta describes: ‘Judd continually wants to see the image and the counter image, opposed and juxtaposed. They clarify and punctuate each other.’ (Jitta, ‘On Series.’)

"In the woodcuts.. colour dominates absolutely. The formal divisions of the surface are basically simple and lucid. They proportion and limit the colours, which consequently acquire a resplendent, precise expression and radiance."
(R. H. Fuchs, ‘Master Judd.’)

This system of partitioning also aligns the woodcuts with Judd’s three-dimensional work. In considering the latter, Annie Ochmanek explains: ‘Judd’s deliberate installations, and the sculptures that he created, indicate that he considered space itself to be a material just as essential as the industrial surfaces out of which his objects were constructed.’ (Annie Ochmanek, ‘Donald Judd.’) In the two-dimensional prints, the same non-hierarchical principle applies: the unprinted areas of the sheets have the same presence and significance as the inked areas they frame or inhabit.

At the same time, Judd paid great attention to the colour and quality of his inks. In Untitled (S. 177-186), the lines and planes of ivory black ink are densely and richly applied; they thus provide a luminous contrast to the pale yellow Japanese paper on which they are printed. As R. H. Fuchs describes, speaking generally about Judd’s work in the medium: 'In the woodcuts.. colour dominates absolutely. The formal divisions of the surface are basically simple and lucid. They proportion and limit the colours, which consequently acquire a resplendent, precise expression and radiance.' (R. H. Fuchs, ‘Master Judd.’)


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