Over Donald Judd’s long career as a leading exponent of Minimalist sculpture, his influence on modern art has been extraordinary. ‘It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyse one by one, to contemplate,’ he wrote in his seminal 1965 essay, Specific Objects. ‘The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting.’ Together with the works of fellow Minimalists Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella, the formal simplicity of Judd’s sculpture reinvented the terms of an artwork and its construction, freeing it from the age-old representational tradition.
Judd was born in Missouri and spent only brief periods studying art. In 1953 he graduated in Philosophy from Columbia University and his first solo exhibition of paintings was held in 1957, the same year he returned to Columbia to begin his Art History masters. From the late 1950s, Judd began to make a name for himself as an art critic rather than as an artist. Over the early 1960s he wrote for publications like ARTnews and Arts Magazine, becoming a champion of the growing Minimalist movement. As a critic, Judd believed that art should transcend its representational history and become something unique to itself. In 1962, he renounced painting, believing the shape of the canvas was inherently representational and began, instead, to create what he called his ‘specific objects’ – the wall-mounted or freestanding sculptures that his name would become synonymous with, like the vertical stack of Untitled (1969) or his horizontal Progressions. These geometric works, most often boxes, were repeated in permutations of material, deconstruction, size and colour.
Permutation and repetition would remain Judd’s abiding preoccupation, but, in the early 1970s, his work would take on an extraordinary new setting as he moved his practice to Marfa, Texas. There he helped found the Chinati Foundation, a largely open-air museum that exhibited the works of artists like Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain. It is now the setting for some of Judd’s most monumental work, like15 Untitled Works in Concrete (1980-1984) and 100 untitled works in mill aluminium (1982-1986)
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