Untitled (DSS 155), 1968 is a landmark at the advent of Minimalist art, a dramatic statement of Donald Judd's aesthetic practice and one of only two examples remaining in private hands. This bold structure – in the artist's favored color of red – is an example of sculpture liberated from the pedestal and the wall and also demonstrates the artist's amazingly sophisticated interest in both void and form. Judd's first floor box structure was executed in 1963 and his first floor box using Plexiglas closely followed in 1964. Prior to that year Judd used Plexiglas in his wall progressions. Many of the means and materials utilized in the works from 1962-1963 were tenuous connections to the realm of the traditional or recent Modernist innovation – paint, masonite, wood, found objects – mixed with more industrial material – iron, aluminum and stainless steel - that would soon take precedence in Judd's first tentative investigations into three-dimensional works. By early 1964, Judd broke with the hand-made and moved irrevocably to the fabricated, commissioning his works to be constructed by fabricators based on his drawings.
In scale, aesthetic presence, grand design and seductive simplicity, Untitled (DSS 155) betokens Judd's arrival on the New York scene as one of the progenitors of Minimalist art. Throughout his career Judd was frequently regarded as a figurehead of Minimalism, alongside a group of American artists including Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin and Carl Andre whose art was deemed by many to be cold, impersonal and sterile. While his use of industrial materials and reductive forms aligned him in the public eye with Minimalism, Judd always rejected this strict categorization. The present work, with its vibrant exuberance and sensual delight in color is at odds with the principle tenets of Minimalism and demonstrates that there is much more to Judd's work than mere reduction and absence. It is as much about sensual mystery as analytic clarity, deriving its sheer beauty from the dialectical tension that exists between the opulence of its polished surfaces and its puritanical sparseness of form.
Deceptively simple in appearance, Judd's work is far more recondite and varied than is casually apparent. Underpinned by a strong allegiance to empirical thinking fostered during his formative years as a student of philosophy at Columbia University, Judd's unique syntax of reductive and highly distilled geometric forms sought to divest art of imitative realism and illusionist depictions of space. Rejecting metaphor, allusion and metaphysical speculations in favor of literal truth, Judd sought to replace ambiguity and inconclusiveness with logic and clarity. The present work is a waist-high Plexiglas prism encasing a stainless steel prism that appears to inexplicably float inside of it. David Raskin notes of this form, "in my understanding, Judd's works of art polarize their durable and ephemeral properties to greater and lesser extents, and this particular example suggests that they also bind our intelligence and intuition. A möbius, it exists at the edge of sense as its optical effects and color effects flow from inside out and back around again." (David Raskin, Donald Judd, New Haven, 2010, p. 65).
Judd produced the first of his iconic stacks in 1965 and by the end of the decade he had established a core vocabulary of forms, including the present example, whose various permutations preoccupied him for the next thirty years, exploiting different color and material combinations to their full potential in a proliferation of closely related works in the tradition of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Just as Rothko viewed his pigments as whole with his canvas surface, Judd felt color was devoid of illusion and indivisible from the material forms of his work. In his 1993 essay, Judd declared that "More than the so-called form, or the shapes, color is the most powerful force. In retrospect, and only so, the expansion of color is logical until the 1960s, concluding with the painting of Pollock, Newman, Still and Rothko. The need for color, the meaning of that need, more than anything destroyed the earlier representational painting, ...Color is an immediate sensation, a phenomenon, and in that leads to the work of Flavin, Bell and Irwin.'' (Dietmar Elger, ed., Donald Judd Colorist, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. 98).
Judd's Modernist concern for purity and non-illusionist space vehemently contradicted the received ideologies formerly associated with sculpture. Indeed, Judd disavowed the very term "sculpture" which he associated with the hand-crafted art of an earlier era. By contrast, Judd's simple, declarative, unambiguous forms, for which he coined the term specific objects in order to stress their neutral, discrete nature, more closely approximated functionless objects than traditional sculpture. Untitled (DSS 155) does not evolve from an artistic process of carving or modeling; it is not figurative nor is it anthropomorphic. Most strikingly, the present work breaks from convention by dispensing with the pedestal which had traditionally isolated sculpture in an ideal realm beyond the viewer, substituting in its place a direct relationship with the architectural space around it by forging an unmediated relationship between floor and ceiling. Thanks to its geometric format, the empty space around and inside the form becomes part of the work itself; they function as articulations of open versus enclosed space, not unlike the sculpture of David Smith, particularly his seminal Cubi series created in the same decade as the present work. Judd respected Smith and clearly looked to his work for inspiration in his own, noting in a 1964 review of a show at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, "David Smith's sculpture is some of the best in the world... [The] stainless steel sculptures are made of irregularly burnished hollow welded boxes, bars and cylinders. All of these have a base, although it is part of the whole sculpture, and a surmounting complex of boxes. The base supporting a relatively complex of parts is more than a vestige of figurative and semiabstract sculpture. The comparative integration of the top and the bottom into a whole is related to newer unsculptural three dimensional work and is especially related to the best painting, that of Newman, Rothko and Noland." (David Smith, "In the Galleries," Arts Magazine, December 1964).
Color is one of the most salient aspects in Judd's trinity of values. In an essay on color he stated: "Material, space and color are the main aspects of visual art." (Elger, 2000, p. 79). Although recognized as a sculptor, his work is informed more by painting than a history of sculpture and his declared ambition was to extend the unity, immediacy, scale and clarity that he found in the work of Newman and Rothko in particular. In an interview with John Coplans, when asked about his predisposition towards the color red, the artist affirms, "I like the color and I like the quality of cadmium red light. And then, also, I thought for a color it had the right value for a three-dimensional object. If you paint something black or any dark color, you can't tell what its edges are like. If you paint it white, it seems small and purist. And the red, other than a gray of that value, seems to be the only color that really makes an object sharp and defintes its contours and angles." ("don judd: an interview with john coplans," in Exh. Cat., Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, Don Judd, 1971, p. 25).
In the Plexiglas pieces, Judd works with color pragmatically, in conjunction with form and space. In 1968, Judd used the form of the present work in five different sculptures, all in varying colors. Three of these works are in museum collections: the amber example is at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the blue example is at the Walker Art Center, and the yellow example is at the Art Institute of Chicago. There is an additional green example in the Collection Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Judd's exploration of color in this series can be seen as an intense, systematic investigation within a given format, a corollary of Barnett Newman's Zip paintings. Throughout his career Judd experimented with various combinations, interrogating the different reflective qualities of metals, such as galvanized steel and copper, combined with Plexiglas of varying hues and translucency. What attracted Judd to this material was the truthfulness of its intrinsic color which emanates from within the medium itself, unlike a painted film which masks the material's natural tones. The optical quality of the present work creates sinuous light patterns of vaporous insubstantiality as highlights glint and surfaces dissolve and then reassert themselves. As the beholder's eye navigates the crisply delineated right-angled edges and corners of the work, the complex play of reflections fuses the sculpture with the surrounding space, the intense red color bleeding into the space around it. In this way, Untitled (DSS 155) forms a marriage between material, space and color – the harmonious expression of Judd's complex aesthetic. The present work truly celebrates negative space on an equivalent basis with the lush surface and physicality of the positive space. While large in scale, Untitled (DSS 155) brilliantly conveys a sense of weightlessness, entirely a bi-product of the elegant shape and the Plexiglas enclosed stainless steel void.
Red fluorescent Plexiglas and stainless steel
Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, Don Judd, May – July 1971 (with text by John Coplans), cat. no. 7, pl. 5, p. 14, illustrated
33 x 68 x 48 in. 84 x 172.7 x 122 cm.
Dudley Del Baso, Brydon Smith & Roberta Smith, Donald Judd – Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Objects and Wood-blocks 1960 – 1974, Ottawa, 1975, cat. no. 155, p. 181
Irving Blum Gallery, Los Angeles
Dr. and Mrs. Charles Hendrickson, Newport Beach
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Jay Chiat, New York
David Zwirner Gallery, New York
Christie's New York, November 10, 2004, Lot 13
Acquired by the present owner from the above