Lisson Gallery

After travelling to New York in 1968 and 1969, Nicholas Logsdail staged joint London shows of Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt in 1970, the first of many UK debuts for important Minimal and Conceptual artists. Judd's second show featured a number of plywood sculptures, pictured above. Here, Roberta Smith introduces his work of the mid-1970s:

"Donald Judd's use of material is straightforward and low-key; nothing is manipulated or transformed; surfaces are smooth and non-tactile and, like his forms, they are without gesture. This unaltered familiarity makes the work immediate in a purely visual sense. In a review of a museum group show in San Francisco, Knute Stiles wrote that he asked a visitor if he felt that the “Do Not Touch” sign on the Judd floor box was almost a challenge to actually touch it."

The visitor’s response, “No, I wouldn’t touch it… It’s too blue”, indicates how Judd’s work establishes distance – almost keeps us at bay – and affirms its artificial, aesthetic purpose. Judd’s shapes and scale are also essential to this quality. His geometric shapes are accessible, they seem normally geometric, but they are actually quite particular. While his signature seems to be the cube, it is significant that he uses it sparingly and never alone. Nor do his pieces ever have three equal dimensions. A single cube is ideal, conceptual, and absolute, just as the idea of perfection is a remote goal, not an immediate sensation.

A rectilinear form can have a variety of proportions; it represents a series of particular decisions and consequently it is more specific visually and more personal (both in terms of our involvement  and our sense of Judd’s involvement). The varying dimensions of a rectilinear form create internal scale which is self-sufficient and readable from a distance or in any size. We do not have to measure Judd’s pieces against our own size or surrounding architecture to perceive their scale. Judd makes scale clear by disassociating it from size and also by sticking to sizes and arrangements which are comprehensive to the individual. It is always possible to locate a point from which the structure of the entire piece is understandable. While the size of Judd’s work is usually modest, the scale is not. Judd’s forms seem to generate their own arrangements, and in metal he makes extensive use of repetition: four to eight cubes in horizontal rows on the wall or floor; horizontal wall boxes repeated on a single vertical row up the wall; and open steel frames which, in repetition of five or eight units, define an open volume. With metal, each aspect of the work is distinct, just as its integral relationship to the entire piece is obvious. His sculpture enters our experience as a single form and then comes apart into its different aspects and decisions.

The variety of different materials has resulted in variations of certain arrangements, particularly the progressions, stacks, single wall boxes, and repeating cubes. For example, Judd first fabricated stacks in galvanized iron and then in other metals. They were done with Plexiglas tops and bottoms of various colours, in combination with different metals. This use of Plexiglas makes each interior volume clear, distinguishes the top and bottom of each element from its front and sides and slightly colours the spaces between the elements. Judd also made stacks with opaque Plexiglas on the sides and fronts of each element, creating a series of repeating bands of colour, emphasising even more the suspension of the stack upon the wall.

In all cases, each piece is different in different materials, better in some than in others, a chance Judd takes  with the autonomy he grants his materials. Some of the small progressions in brass or copper seem fractured into smaller planes, destroying their structural clarity and scale; their size cannot sustain the reflectiveness. 

But in the end the variety and economy of Judd’s material brings us back to the constancy of his space. It is  the quality of the space, of the visible static volumes which each arrangement delineates again and again,  
that is central to the work."

Roberta Smith, ‘Donald Judd’, Donald Judd: Catalogue Raisonne of Paintings, Objects, and Wood-Blocks, 1960 – 1974, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1975

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