Now the artist’s best known legacy, Judd’s stacks have come to epitomize the new American art that emerged in the early 1960s in challenge to the thematic allusion and illusionism which had, for centuries, defined the paintings of canonical art history. Unlike such titans of abstraction as Newman, Pollock, Rothko, and Still, however—all of whom he considered as immediate precedents for his practice—in 1962 and 1963, Judd came to the inevitable conclusion that painting, no matter how abstract, how reductive, contained some degree of illusionism. As phrased by the artist in his famous 1965 treatise “Specific Objects:” “It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting… Abstract painting before 1946 and most subsequent painting kept the representational subordination of the whole to its parts. Sculpture still does.” (Donald Judd, “Specific Objects,” 1965, reproduced in Donald Judd: The Complete Writings, 1959-1975, New York, 2015, p. 187) Only in sculpture could one determine the variables inherent to the work itself; scholar Barbara Haskell describes, “To expunge all implications of an a priori cosmic scheme, Judd restricted himself to the objective facts of color, form, surface, and texture, since only these could be trusted. A focus on concrete materiality replaced metaphor and allusion.” (Barbara Haskell, “Donald Judd: Beyond Formalism,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and traveling), Donald Judd, 1988, p. 42) In the artist’s own, more succinct words: “It is one kind of skepticism to make the work so strong and material that it can only assert itself.” (Donald Judd, cited in Ibid.) In pursuit of an artistic mode so precise, so definitive, so aesthetically unequivocal as to be beyond the slightest ambiguity, Judd broke from the medium of painting entirely, jettisoning the two dimensional in favor of a truly “specific object;” in so doing, he discovered the wholly innovative vocabulary of sculptural forms that would radically and incontrovertibly alter the course of Twentieth Century art.
In their austere elegance and rigorous, uncompromising candor, Judd’s stacks epitomize the essential purpose behind the entirety of his artistic output: to determine the boundaries of what art can express as true. First initiated in 1965 – the same year he authored “Specific Objects” – the introduction of these vertical columns of gleaming, cantilevered boxes represents the apex of Judd’s investigation of space as a variable that, in addition to material, shape, color, and form, informs and defines the essential nature of a work of art. In Untitled, as in those very first stacks, the meticulously defined space between each individual component is of equal volume to those of the units themselves, ensuring that that negative space becomes a tangible element of the work in its own right. Elegantly framed by the razor edges of each box, this emptiness is transformed into a form itself, taking on a spatial identity both within and surrounding the sculpture itself. Replete with harmonies of positive and negative space, Untitled articulates in tangible form Judd’s own description of space within a sculptural vernacular: “If two objects are close together they define the space in between. These definitions are infinite until the two objects are so far apart that the distance in between is no longer space. But then the passerby remembers that one was there and another here. The space between can be even more definite than the two objects which establish it; it can be a single space more than the two objects are a pair.” (Donald Judd, “Specific Objects,” 1965, reproduced in Donald Judd: The Complete Writings, 1959-1975, New York, 2015, p. XX) Now quintessential icons of modern art, one can only imagine the astonishing sensation which confronted visitors of the artist’s first solo show at Leo Castelli gallery in February 1966, when the artist unveiled the first stack; as eloquently imagined by critic Judd Tully, “For the lucky viewer in those Castelli days, it might have carried the same jolt as seeing one of Duchamp’s original Ready-mades, perhaps the wood and galvanized iron snow shovel of In Advance of the Broken Arm from 1915 in Paris, or in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) that same year, viewing Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist composition, Black Square or staring skyward at Constantin Brancusi’s twenty-three foot high, carved, rhomboid shaped Endless Column in the garden of Edward Steichen’s home in Voulangis in 1920.” (Judd Tully, “Donald Judd: Shape, Structure & Stacks,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Mnuchin Gallery, Donald Judd: Stacks, 2013, n.p.)
Within the self-imposed formal economy of the stacks, Judd created a wealth of astonishingly diverse sculptural works. The visual complexity and multiplicity of the stack is derived largely from the implicit differences between their materials: from the first stack of galvanized iron, Judd expanded to stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass (as in the present work), allowing the characteristic intrinsic to each distinct metal to define and distinguish the individual work. As described by Barbara Haskell, these distinctions “substantiated Judd’s implicit claim that every material possessed formal properties that belonged to it alone and the artist must limit himself that best allowed the materials to speak. Materials were the parts of speech of sculpture. Their properties—surface, color, thickness, and weight—were sufficient to substitute for the role traditionally filled by ornamentation.” (Barbara Haskell, “Donald Judd: Beyond Formalism,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and traveling), Donald Judd, 1988, p. 73) In coupling these shimmering, luxurious materials with the stark geometry of his forms, Judd exploited their inherent opulence to create works of exquisite, almost otherworldly artistry, producing, as Hilton Kramer eloquently described, “minimal forms at the service of glamorous, hedonistic effects of light.” (Hilton Kramer, “Display of Judd Art Defines an Attitude,” The New York Times, New York, May 14, 1971, p. D48) With the added material of Plexiglas in the later 1960s, the element of color within the stacks intensified: as in the present work, the reflected hue of the translucent green acrylic glows in the stack’s intersices, unifying the positive and negative forms of the sculpture in a single, gently gleaming column of emerald light. Dietmar Elger describes, “Almost more than any other materials, Plexiglas lived up to Judd’s stipulation that material and color should form a single entity, for color is truly inherent in Plexiglas. It is available in an almost endless variety of factory-made colors, and can, in addition, be opaque or transparent, dull, intensely glowing, or even fluorescent.” (Dietmar Elger, “Introduction (to Don Judd, colorist),” in Exh. Cat., Hannover, Sprengel Museum Hannover (and traveling), Donald Judd: Colorist, 2000, p. 21) Amongst the most enchanting aspects of the stacks is the unique lyricism of each, despite their stark simplicity. Never static, Untitled offers an entirely novel experience for each individual to confront its vertical majesty, the multi-tiered structure of gleaming forms and spaces opening vistas of interminable observation and intimacy with approach. Judd Tully eloquently describes, “For this viewer, the stacks bring to mind other singular objects, say the rakish silhouette of a 1963 fiberglass bodied Corvette Stingray, painted in a blazing shade of Roman Red, or the constructional clarity of Mies van der Rohe’s (and Philip Johnson’s) bronze and bronze-glass Seagram tower on Park Avenue. You might not recall the model year of the car or the name of the architect, but like the Judd stack, there’s an instantaneous visual connection with the object, one that is both unique and memorable.” (Judd Tully, “Donald Judd: Shape, Structure & Stacks,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Mnuchin Gallery, Donald Judd: Stacks, 2013, n.p.)
Emanating a vivid, unfiltered hue, Untitled represents the ultimate culmination of Judd’s decades-long investigation of color in his iconic stacks. Executed in the year preceding the artist’s death, the present work is a testament, not only to the artist’s deft and inventive use of hue throughout his career, but to the heightened emphasis upon color which distinguishes his late work and, in particular, the last stacks. In his essay on the subject, scholar Rudi Fuchs notes: “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. The pieces he was working on when he died indicated another brilliant development.” (Rudi Fuchs, “Master of Colour,” in Exh. Cat., Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Donald Judd: The Moscow Installation, p. 11) Indeed, Judd drew emphatic attention to the importance of color within his own work in his last major statement, an essay titled Some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular; written in the same year the present work was executed, Judd begins the essay with the boldly succinct statement, “Material, space, and color are the main aspects of visual art.” (The artist, cited in Ibid., p. 79) Nowhere is this statement more profoundly and unequivocally manifest than in the vibrant clarity of Untitled, its succinct forms confronting the viewer with a saturated intensity unrivalled by Judd’s previous work. Describing the supremacy of color within Judd’s late works, scholar Barbara Haskell reflects, “Color became the main element of visual appeal. The buoyant moods afforded by the color combinations contrasted with the restrained severity of Judd’s earlier work. Without relaxing his rigorous battle against equivocation and fraudulence, he had transformed his syntax into more lyrical utterances.” (Barbara Haskell, “Donald Judd: Beyond Formalism,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and traveling), Donald Judd, 1988, p.114) Achieving at last the sublime union of color, material, and space which initiated the entirety of his sculptural practice, Untitled serves as the ultimate and triumphant resolution to Judd’s unwavering pursuit of the essential, unshakeable truths of artistic creation; once realized, as eloquently phrased by the artist himself, "what lingers on is almost a motionless apparition—of surface and color only, and reflected light, glow, shadows. That is, I believe, when a piece becomes real—and beautiful." (The artist, cited in Exh. Cat., New York, PaceWildenstein, Donald Judd, 2004, p. 8)
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