The Minimalist’s Minimalist





While Donald Judd certainly did not like to be considered a minimalist, there is no doubt he ushered in one of the 20th century’s most important artistic movements. With an eye to paring down a work to its essential form and using industrial elements and means for producing the work, he gave new meaning to the genre of sculpture and changed the notion of how an artist conceives and executes their vision.

The collection of pieces currently on view at MoMA, entitled simply Judd, is not a retrospective but rather a carefully curated selection of seminal works that chart his career. They provide historical context for his development as artist and focuses on the themes he returned to, and continued a lifelong exploration of, to refine and reinvent.

Untitled, 1961, Oil on Composition Board Mounted on Wood with Tinned Baking Pan Insert

Donald Judd wasn’t always an artist. After dabbling for a few years with abstract painting in the mid 1950’s, he spent the early part of his career as an art critic and composed nearly 600 reviews, which were published in various art magazines as well as other outlets between 1959-1965. In this way, he gained direct access to the artists he wrote about and obtained insight into their approaches and methods. From there he began experimenting with sketching and drafting forms, eventually landing on the concept of objects that live in “real space,” as he put it.

Untitled, 1963, Cadmium Red Light Oil and Black Oil on Wood with Galvanzied Iron and Aluminum. Considered to be a "failed painting" as he couldn't curve the canvas, he replaced the canvas with galvanized iron.
Untitled, 1961-69, Two Woodcut Prints
Untitled, 1961-69, Woodblocks. They are an early indication of Judd's interest in the serial development of basic structures.




He resisted calling these objects sculptures, believing they inhabited a place without historical precedent. However, with no other vernacular to discuss them, the pieces were considered sculpture; their influence changed what could be defined as sculpture and, therefore, art itself.

Untitled, 1963, Purple Lacquer on Aluminum, Cadmium Red Light Oil on Wood

The myriad works on display are dazzling in their scale and impressive for their brevity. They loom large, ostensibly saying little, but their simplicity belies an expansion of thought within any given shape.

Three examples of "stacks." This is the first, created in 1965. Untitled, in Galvanized Iron
Untitled, 1968, Stainless Steel and Yellow Plexiglas
Untitled, 1986, Aluminum with Red Plexiglas
Untitled, 1968, Brass





They also invite engagement, as there are tube tunnels to look through, box structures that pull you in, optical treats that trick the eye and structures that encourage you to simply stand below and look up.




Donald Judd’s strict adherence to a rigid, yet assorted, vocabulary altered the discourse in art and created a new way to see the world through his lens of minimal materials and ample scale for maximum impact.

Untitled, 1969, Clear Anodized Aluminum and Blue Plexiglas in Four Units
Untitled, 1973, Plywood. This work made its debut at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. An imposing set of five parallelograms with a dazzling optical effect!
Untitled, 1991, Enameled Aluminum
Untitled, 1986, Douglas Fir Plywood and Orange Plexiglas





Judd closes on January 9.