Donald Judd
Untitled 1972

Artwork details

Donald Judd 1928–1994
Date 1972
Medium Copper, enamel and aluminium
Dimensions Object: 916 x 1555 x 1782 mm
Acquisition Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 1992
Not on display


Untitled 1972 is a large floor-based work consisting of an open-topped, almost square box with sides made from copper and an aluminium base that is enamelled on the inside in cadmium red. The red colour of the base is reflected by the interior faces of the copper sides, making them a much brighter and richer colour than the exterior faces. Given that the box rises no further than waist height, it is possible to see this difference in colour and tone between the inside and outside of the work from some distance away, so that viewed from such a position it appears that the copper box is filled with red light. However, when seen close up and from above the red enamel surface of the base is fully visible as the source of the red glow. Looking inside the box, viewers can also see that the largely matt copper walls act as mirrors, reflecting the four sides of the box’s interior in all directions, and the copper on the exterior is similarly reflective.

Untitled was made by the American artist Donald Judd in 1972 with Bernstein Brothers of Long Island City, New York – Judd’s preferred fabricators, with whom he had been working since 1964. Untitled was first exhibited in 1973 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. It is one of two identically proportioned copper objects by Judd, both of which are named Untitled, although the companion work was made two years later, in 1974, and has an inside base enamelled in an ultramarine blue, the colour of which contrasts much more strongly with the copper sides than does the cadmium red used in Tate’s work.

Judd originally trained as a painter but from 1961 onwards his works began to extend out from the gallery wall and increasingly onto the floor, as is the case in Untitled 1972. The artist avoided defining his work as either painting or sculpture, choosing instead to call it ‘three-dimensional work’. He used this term in his 1965 essay ‘Specific Objects’, explaining that he associated the categories of painting and sculpture with a European tradition in which the materials used in a work of art often represented or made reference to people and things that existed elsewhere in time and space (see Judd 1975, pp.181–9). Judd was anxious to distance himself from this and instead to make objects that held no allusive overtones, stating in the essay that ‘Three dimensions are real space. That gets rid of the problem of illusionism’ (Judd 1975, p.184). For the same reason, Judd did not give descriptive titles to his works, and almost invariably, as in this case, left them untitled. What distinguishes one from another is the specificity of the materials, dimensions and colours used on each occasion. Untitled 1972 is thus a ‘specific object’, the scale, colour and materials of which present a space that appears contained but also expands outwards into the surrounding gallery, reflecting Judd’s observation in 1993 that ‘Space is made ... not found and packaged’ (Judd in Serota 2004, p.145).

With its straightforward, rectilinear form and foregrounding of its colour and its physical, material presence, Untitled 1972 is an example of a minimalist object. Minimalism emerged in America in the 1960s among artists of Judd’s generation, although Judd himself disliked the term ‘minimalism’, stating in 1966 that its use suggested a belief that the object under consideration lacked certain necessary qualities:

New work is just as complex and developed as old work ... its colour and structure and its quality aren’t more simple than before; the work isn’t narrow or somehow meaningful only as form.
(Judd 1975, p.190.)

Over the course of Judd’s career, the enamelling process used in Untitled 1972 to bind the cadmium red colour to the aluminium base gave way to other methods of bringing colour and material closer together, for example in the powder coated aluminium elements in Untitled (DJ 85-51) 1985 (Tate T07143) and the blue anodised aluminium units of Untitled 1990 (Tate T07951).

Further reading
Donald Judd, Complete Writings 1959–1975, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and New York 1975.
Brydon Smith, Donald Judd, a catalogue of the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 24 May–6 July, 1975; Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Objects, and Wood-Blocks 1960–1974, exhibition catalogue and catalogue raisonné, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa 1975, reproduced p.85, no.271, Untitled 1974 reproduced p.87.
Nicholas Serota (ed.), Donald Judd, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.204–5, reproduced p.205.

Michael Archer
November 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

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