Executed with exceptional precision and utter smoothness, Untitled 87-14 is an iconic work that reflects the essence of Donald Judd’s art theoretical beliefs, first summarised in his seminal essay ‘Specific Objects’ from 1965. In one of the most significant and influential pieces written about art in the 1960s, Judd identified the new art object as “neither painting nor sculpture” but declared that “the use of three dimensions is an obvious alternative. It opens to anything” (Donald Judd, ‘Specific Objects’, in: Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Eds., Art in Theory 1900 – 2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford 2003, p. 824). His subsequent inquiry into spatial concepts through three-dimensional forms and materials resulted in a radically innovative sculptural practice that postulated the primacy of space, material, and colour as the principal constituents of the visual.
Projected from a wall as a rectangular block with four frontal and two side openings, Untitled 87-14 embraces the physical movement around the work to spur not only a visual sensation but also a haptic one. From afar, Untitled 87-14 resembles a four-part colour chart painting; at closer view the work appears as a sculptural amalgamation of symmetrically arranged panels while the use of a common material such as aluminium even allows a more literal reading of the work as utility object such as a book shelf. In the 1970s, Judd began to use industrial materials such as steel, copper, Plexiglas and aluminium to create the precise forms for his sculptures and eliminate any traces of the artist’s hand that could potentially interfere with the viewer’s experience. By creating powerful material objects that stand in perpetual dialogue with their surrounding space, Judd’s sculptures reject any definite interpretations as they embrace the openness of spatial relations, which is further enhanced by his incorporation of light and colour.
Rather than representing a gateway into illusionism, Judd’s colours of fiery orange, bright turquoise, indigo blue and warm brown are an integral part of the present work’s form. The industrial gloss of these aluminium colour surfaces’ and the occasional appearance of shadows along the object’s internal parts - both of which depend on the viewer’s specific positioning - present Untitled 87-14 as a phenomenology of colour. It is in these works from the 1980s that Judd succeeded to integrate colour in a greater variety and complexity than ever before, establishing him as a “Master of Colour” as dubbed by art historian Rudi Fuchs in his eponymous essay on the artist (Rudi Fuchs, ‘Master of Colour’, in: Exh. Cat., Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Donald Judd. The Moscow Installation, 1994, p. 11). The sculpture’s intrinsic features are straightforward as well as transparent, and this formal simplicity has potential to embrace multiple semantic readings. As curator Gen Umezu aptly described, Judd “kept making works in which everything seems so clear and yet, or perhaps consequently, they remain nothing but a mystery” (Gen Umezu, ‘The Purification of Experiences – On the Art of Donald Judd’, in: Exh. Cat., Saitama, The Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Donald Judd 1960-1991, 1999, p. 86).