19 March 2020

Judd, maker of specific objects

The last great one-man US exhibition devoted to Donald Judd (1928-1994) was held in 1988. Now, more than 30 years later, Judd, one of the great fathers of Minimalism, is being brought back into the spotlight and introduced to the younger generations through 70 of his works. Deliberately arranged in chronological order to map the evolution of a such an important career and an artistic vision that developed both methodically and unpredictably, the exhibition, says its curator, Ann Temkin, “covers the full arc of his career, aiming to reveal its largely unexpected variety and complexity.”

The exhibition begins in the ‘60s, when the artist – who graduated in Philosophy from Columbia University and subsequently studied art – made paintings, drawings, prints and objects, before swiftly giving up painting once and for all, making a stand against the abstract Expressionism of those years, and becoming increasingly interested in space. Donald Judd’s approach to art tended towards the real world: from space to light to colour. A phenomenological experience, rather than a metaphysical or metaphorical one. In his first one-man show, in 1963, some of his handmade objects were shown simply sitting on the ground, thus occupying a real space, marking a definitive break with two-dimensional painting in favour of works in three dimensions, 3D combined with simplification of shape. Rather than suggesting an illusory space, Judd wanted to harness abstract art to use and define real space. He thus became attracted by the concept of empty spaces, which led to his interest in the idea of empty spaces, in themselves hollow boxes, and by planes, simple geometric shapes, all arranged according to repetitive patterns. His Stacks, metal boxes fixed to walls at identical intervals, so as to form vertical columns, and his Progressions, wall sculptures in which variously-sized boxes were attached to long rectangular tubes according to different computational sequences. Objects and spaces had to share the same value, to such an extent that the title of the Specific Objects series is the same as that of his famous treatise which, along with Robert Morris’s theoretical writings and the Primary Structures exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1966, underpinned the Minimalist movement.

The ‘70s heralded another step change in Judd’s work, following to his move to Marfa, Texas. Inspired by the vast desert spaces around him, he began to create extra-large, site-specific installations, introducing the concept of permanent installations, experimenting with different levels of scale as well as new types of structure. His materials of choice were steel, cement and Plexiglas, with industrial procedures employed to create his large-scale minimalist sculptures.

The last two rooms contain his later works, most of them executed in Europe and characterised by their material and chromatic exuberance, a far cry from the minimalism of earlier days.

Judd was a painter, sculptor and artist as well as a critic and essayist, keenly involved in democratic and environmental causes, and a critic of architecture and design, but he wanted to be remembered as “a fabricator of specific objects.” And there you have it.


The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan, New York

1st March – 11th July 2020


#Minimalism, #installation, #MoMA, #New York, #abstract art, #site-specific installations, #permanent installations