Lot 38
  • 38

Donald Judd

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Donald Judd
  • Untitled (Bernstein 81-83)
  • stamped JO JUDD 81-83 (Bernstein Bros. Inc.) on the reverse of each unit
  • stainless steel and blue Plexiglas, in four parts
  • each: 19 5/8 x 39 1/4 x 19 5/8 in. 50 x 100 x 50 cm.
  • Executed in 1981.


Private Collection, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1981)
David Zwirner Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


This work is in excellent condition. Upon close inspection and strong lighting, there are only minimal signs of handling on a few exteriors of the side panels. On the second unit from the left, there is one small area of possible accretion or imperfection located one inch from the outermost edge of the top panel. As this is the top of the interior, it is not visible under normal viewing conditions.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Untitled (Bernstein 81-83) is a quintessential example of Donald Judd’s radically innovative sculptural practice: austere in form and concept while aesthetically sophisticated in color and spatial treatment. Although he personally resisted any categorization, Judd was unquestionably one of the leading practitioners of Minimalism. Abiding by strict conceptual premises that he articulated with a discrete vocabulary of three-dimensional forms and materials, Judd created a wealth of works from his self-imposed economy of means, defining these works as specific objects which he placed directly on the floor or the wall. For Judd, the wall and its relation to the specific object was just as integral to his aesthetic concepts as the physical form itself. As Nicholas Serota wrote in his essay for the catalogue of the Tate Modern exhibition in 2004, “The root of Judd’s concern with the placement of his own work, …lay deeper than the simple fact that the appearance or meaning of a work could be ‘harmed’ or ‘helped’, as he put it, by where it was placed. As he wrote in 1993, ‘There is no neutral space since space is made, indifferently or intentionally, and since meaning is made ignorantly or knowledgeably.’ For Judd, space as well as material and colour, were the principal constituents of the visual. He regarded the concept of ‘space’ in art as being poorly understood and barely explored in past practice, and he believed this was an area to which he made a significant contribution. ‘The smallest simplest work [of mine] creates a space around it, since there is so much space within …This is new in art.’" (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Donald Judd, 2004, p. 103) In its arrangement of interior and exterior space within and around four distinct units, Untitled (Bernstein 81-83) amply exhibits Judd’s spatial concepts at the core of his visual vocabulary.

At the outset of his artistic journey, Judd’s vertical progressions known as Stacks and his horizontal progressions were explorations of simple geometric forms combined serially into greater wholes according to mathematical repetitions. Although the vertical Stacks originated in 1965 with Untitled (DSS 65) as a series of separate units divided in a sequence of solid objects alternating with wall voids, the horizontal progressions of mass and void began as single objects with the red lacquer and wood Untitled (DSS 45). In that same year, Judd also established more complex horizontal compositions with Untitled (DSS 55) in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and To Susan Buckwalter (DSS 56) in the collection of Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover.  But in these progressions, a repetition of four vertical units – elongated rectangles and volumetric cubes respectively – were connected by a hollow pipe along their top edges, still creating a physical whole. In Untitled (DSS 56) and related works, the four cubes are aligned at repeated intervals of approximately one quarter of their width, establishing a uniform pattern of voids. As was his life-long practice, Judd refined this concept in Untitled (DSS 80) of 1966 in which the large cubes of stainless steel and amber Plexiglas were completely unattached – at last liberated and allowed for the first time to articulate and define its surrounding space in a manner consistent with the Stacks.

In the 1970s, Judd increased the scale, complexity and variety of his aesthetic investigations. Having rejected the concept of the handmade in the early 1960s, he utilized fabricators, such as the Bernstein Brothers in Queens, to eliminate any trace of the artist’s hand. Judd chose industrial materials such as steel, copper, Plexiglas and aluminum to create the precise forms for his sculptures. Untitled (Bernstein 81-83) extends this program in which Judd achieved his aspiration to eliminate illusion in his art through the creation of material objects of elemental force, coexistent within their surrounding space. The four units of stainless steel and blue Plexiglas, evenly spaced on the wall, exhibit Judd’s increasing emphasis on created space and with issues of site and presentation. With variations in individual interior spaces, Untitled (Bernstein 81-83) elegantly expands Judd’s premise about spatial relations, enhanced by his genius for color and light.

Earlier in the 1960s, Judd employed colored Plexiglas as top and bottom surfaces or lateral sides, allowing light to expose the interior of the units and casting jewel-tone reflections on the wall. With Untitled (Bernstein 81-83), color and light create spatial complexity within the units, compounded by the addition of angled stainless steel partitions in the interior.  The rich blue Plexiglas is now placed at the back of each unit, aligning physically with the wall surface yet implying a limitless void extended beyond the wall with its –albeit unintended – allusions to sky and water. Judd adds partitions of various angle and position within each unit and as light and shadow play amongst the divisions, the asymmetry yields subtly different tonal variations and luminosity. The vertical divider of each box increases the complexity of Judd’s interplay of colors, space and material, rendering Untitled (Bernstein 81-83) a veritable treatise on the richness that can be harnessed from the simplest and most refined means.