With its profound orchestration of color and form, Donald’s Judd’s Untitled typifies the artist’s revered body of multicolored wall pieces. At once refined and bold, the present work testifies to the heightened emphasis on color which distinguishes Judd’s late work. Executed in the last decade of his life, Untitled embodies scholar Rudi Fuch’s analysis that, “Over the years Donald Judd became ever more sure in what he did. In the last years of his life the colors became brighter than ever before” (Rudi Fuchs in: “Master of Colour,” Exh. Cat., Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Donald Judd: The Moscow Installation, 1994, p. 11). Testifying to their command, Ann Temkin, chief curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, will emphasize these multicolored late works in MoMA’s 2020 retrospective exhibition of Judd’s work. Having remained in the same private collection for nearly two decades, Untitled offers viewers a rare and uniquely concise demonstration of the great achievements of twentieth century art. Wonderfully chromatic yet exquisitely unadorned, the present work is a compelling paradigm of Judd’s unparalleled and ambitious contribution to the philosophical and theoretical landscape of the Minimalist era.
Numerical formulae determine the present work’s composition, providing a sense of regularity and measure. Produced at the Swiss mechanical manufacturer Studer AG, the present work exemplifies Judd’s revolutionary process of artistic creation: he introduces systems of standardization and mechanization to remove traces of his hand. In terms particularly evocative of the present work, Fuchs writes: “What [Judd] designed was simplicity itself; the forms are all based on multiples of five […] This is form standardized: so discreet and regular that it really is just a support for the color” (Rudi Fuchs in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern; Dusseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen; Kustmuseum Basel, Donald Judd, 2004, p. 21). Untitled extends along the wall with an aura of unmovable strength. The industrial, unmodulated colors that he pairs together—his beloved traffic red, stark white, deep grey, warm tan, and jet black—never lose themselves in the whole. They remain magnificently and unchangeably themselves, balancing each other with a distinctive rhythm and an even cadence.
Early exposure to the philosophical writings of color theorists, such as Johann Wolfgang von Geothe, M. E. Chevreul, and Wassily Kandinsky, at the Art Students League in New York and then at Columbia University piqued Judd’s interest in exploring the creative possibilities and spatial effects of color for himself. 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. Judd’s use of color was therefore seen as “startlingly sensuous, almost voluptuous” (Rosalind Krauss in: “Allusion and Illusion in Donald Judd,” Artforum 4, No. 9, May 1966, p. 25). In the present work, color disrupts the evenness of form, invoking a powerful phenomenological encounter of heightened sensorial and spatial awareness.