Distinguished by its lustrous silvery-gray surface, elegant form, and commanding presence, Donald Judd’s Untitled (DSS 66) from 1965 is the first sculptural wall piece of its kind from the artist’s profound oeuvre. Spanning just over two feet in length and also projecting over two feet from its supporting wall, the scale of this work is made all the more striking by its industrial galvanized iron façade. Acquired from Ferus Gallery soon after it was executed, and remaining in private hands for nearly six decades, the present work is an enduring record of the moment in which Judd solidified his mature style—acting as a point of genesis for many of the iconic forms that are the artist’s contribution to art history. As part of Judd’s fundamental quest for ‘inherent scale’ he made sure that each object’s cantilever from the wall must appear abrupt, with no transition or other concession to the architectural support, space and scale so that viewing the work include moments of surprise. The first unique bullnose of its kind, Untitled (DSS 66) is the essence of this artistic ethos.
Inspiring Judd’s later wall progressions, the present work retains an uninterrupted solidity and highly refined minimalism which combines form and material with extreme precision commanding a strong sense of visual authority. Rather than referring to his work as sculpture Judd described his various forms as wall pieces, either consisting of one single unit or multiple units hanging on the wall. These works are referred to using terms that relate to their structure or orientation such as the iconic stacks, intricate progressions, colorful meter boxes or sleek bullnoses named in reference to a particular type of chisel. Judd’s first exhibited the stack at Leo Castelli in 1966, which was executed in galvanized iron, as is the present work, and later expanded to stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass, allowing the characteristics 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 [in order to allow] 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). Untitled (DSS 66) captures the confidence and triumph of the artist’s aesthetic and conceptual dialect and stands as the first example of the bullnose now known as one of Judd’s most successful forms.
Untitled (DSS 66) is instantly recognizable as an archetypal work by the master of Minimalism combining the conceptual and aesthetic concerns that preoccupied the artist throughout his career. Judd’s profoundly reduced forms pushed Twentieth Century abstraction to its geometric extreme to a point that no other artist had ever explored. As seen in the present work constructed in galvanized iron, Judd fully embraced industrial fabrication methods, materials and uniform shapes, ultimately removing all physical traces of the artist’s hand. The present work initially acquired from the fabled Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, Untitled (DSS 66) projects outward to spatially engage with the viewer as it strongly articulates the contrast between the flat plane of the wall and the three-dimensional physicality of the sculpture. Judd commented, “Three dimensions are real space. That gets rid of the problem of illusionism and of literal space, space in and around marks and colors-which is riddance of one of the salient and most objectionable relics of European art. A work can be as powerful as it can be thought to be. Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface” (Donald Judd, “Specific Objects,” Arts Yearbook 8 (1965), reprinted in Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-1975, Halifax 1975, p. 184).
Reacting against the overly dramatic, personal angst of Abstract Expressionism, Judd emphasized predetermined, repetitive, self-contained forms that rejected hierarchical composition, activated negative space, and successfully denied art historical classifications such as painting, sculpture, or architecture instead existing themselves as pure ‘objects.’ Judd explains, “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). First developed through his progressions and later expanded in his stacks, the present work is more organic in its form and color allowing the viewer to focus on the object itself and its relationship with the space around it. In doing so, Judd achieves his central tenet: that the nature of the artwork becomes defined by its own contextual experience. The use of un-polished, galvanized iron further develops this principle. The seductively uniform and silver-gray surface catches light along the seamless curve of its face, which creates a powerful sensation of depth as it protrudes into space. Untitled (DSS 66) serves as a quintessential, early 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, Pace Wildenstein, Donald Judd, 2004, p. 8).
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