Judd’s radical ideas are self-evident in Untitled, a piece he devised with considerable systematic thought. The work, being entirely composed of galvanized iron – a prefabricated industrial material – breaks with modernist practices by challenging the centrality of authorship. The textured surface of the iron, which resembles expressive brushwork from a distance but is actually the result of a mechanized, mass-produced process further contributes to the effect of authorial ambiguity. Moreover, Judd’s employment of galvanized iron seems to exemplify, unlike other materials, his ideal of raw, unmediated materiality. The artist used mathematic calculations and principles of serial progression to determine the spatial intervals between the piece’s imposing, semi-circular segments. Such calculated variations in distance were intended to upset any hierarchical arrangements derived from the artist’s subjectivity.
A historically significant piece in Judd’s oeuvre, Untitled marks Judd’s choice to begin placing his specific objects on the wall, as they had hitherto been placed on the floor. Judd’s re-thinking of horizontality and its visual effects on spatial projection eventually led him to devise his widely acclaimed 'Stacks.' Untitled can thus be understood as a necessary historic transition towards one of Judd’s most iconic creations. Remarking on this conceptual shift, the artist stated: “Low and high relief are basically painting, possessing the same problems, as well as some of their own … After I made the first works placed on the floor, knowing the relationship to the surface, through at least 1963 I didn’t think anything could be made which could be placed on the wall. Then I realized that the relationship to the wall could be the same as that to the floor … It was necessary for the work to project sufficiently, at least as much as its height and width.” (Nicholas Serota, Donald Judd, New York, 2004, p. 188)
Furthermore, Judd’s Untitled, a work that asserts its industrial materiality and volumetric presence, reflects upon the artist’s lifelong fascination with space. Renate Petzinger, notes: “Donald Judd’s space serves a purpose, but it pursues no other objective than to be space which achieves its effect as space – space in a philosophical, epistemological sense.” (Renate Petzinger, “Specific Elements in Donald Judd’s architecture," Wiesbaden, Museum Wiesbaden (and travelling), Art + Design Donald Judd, 1993, p. 131) These spatial concerns are elegantly revealed in the way Judd imbues Untitled with an architectonic intelligence, giving rise to a sensational, meditative viewing experience. The artist’s preoccupation with space provided the impetus to establish his extraordinary exhibition spaces in both downtown Manhattan and Marfa, Texas. Like Untitled, Judd’s exhibition spaces contend with the formal interplay of space, materials and color.
By establishing a new ontological reality for the art-object, Untitled urges viewers to rethink the very definition of art. In doing so, the early work contributes to Judd’s role in fostering a shift in artistic consciousness in the late twentieth century. In a similar vein to modernist luminary Marcel Duchamp, Judd helped forged the way for conceptually-driven approaches to art-making, now widely practiced in the global contemporary arena. Paradoxically straddling its self-evident and enigmatic qualities, Judd’s seminal work, Untitled, represents within it the beginnings of his Minimalist legacy.
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