Untitled 1990 is a wall-based work by the American artist Donald Judd. It comprises ten identical rectangular boxes, each with sides made of blue anodised aluminium and top and bottom faces made of clear acrylic sheeting. The units are fixed to the wall at one of their long sides, and are positioned one above another in a vertical arrangement. Each box is separated from the next by a distance equal to its height, and this same distance separates the bottom of the lowest unit and the floor. The display instructions stipulate that there must also be a gap of at least the height of one box between the uppermost unit and the ceiling, and if the ceiling of the gallery is too low to accommodate this, the number of units featured in the work must be reduced in order to achieve it. The considerable depth of the units means that Untitled projects some way out from the wall, and although it has a relationship with both the wall and the space around it, works such as this were not regarded by Judd as either painting or sculpture, but rather as examples of what the artist referred to in 1965 as ‘three-dimensional work’ (see Donald Judd, ‘Specific Objects’ (1965), in Judd, Complete Writings 1959–1975, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and New York 1975, p.181).
Untitled was made by Judd in 1990 with Bernstein Brothers of Long Island City, New York, the firm with which Judd began working in 1964, and which was responsible for fabricating his objects produced in metal and acrylic. The work was first displayed in the exhibition Donald Judd: New Sculpture at the Pace Gallery in New York in 1991. Judd did not give descriptive titles to his works, and almost invariably, as in this case, left them untitled.
In an essay written by Judd in 1993, the artist stated:
Material, space, and colour are the main aspects of visual art. Everyone knows that there is material that can be picked up and sold, but no one sees space and colour. Two of the main aspects of art are invisible; the basic nature of art is invisible.
(Judd in Serota 2004, p.145.)
The transparent upper and lower faces of the units in Untitled allow light to flood through the work, giving the appearance of a single rectangular column stretching from floor to ceiling. The process of anodising brings into close proximity the blue colour and the physical substance of the aluminium that delineates this space at regular intervals. Thus in Untitled Judd’s three main ‘aspects of art’ – material, space and colour – are visibly interrelated.
During his career Judd made several works using this pattern of repeated, cantilevered flat boxes, a form often referred to by curators and critics as a ‘stack’. The first stack, now in the collection of the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, was made in 1965 and consisted of seven units. The following year Judd used the same dimensions as the boxes in Untitled 1990 – 228 x 1016 x 787 mm – to make his first ten-unit stack. Although these measurements became standard for all of the large stacks Judd made subsequently, he used a range of materials to make them including galvanised iron, steel, copper, aluminium and clear or coloured acrylic sheets, and combined these materials in a variety of ways. For example, the Tate collection includes another stack, Untitled 1980 (Tate T03087), which has units made from galvanised iron, the front faces of which are formed from a recessed panel of dark blue acrylic sheeting.
Although the ‘stacks’ consist of separate units, it was important for Judd that each work be seen as a singular, whole object. He said in a 1964 interview that ‘The big problem is that anything that is not absolutely plain begins to have parts in some way. The thing is to be able to work and do different things and yet not break up the wholeness that a piece has’ (Judd in Glaser 1964, p.155). Accordingly, Judd stated clearly that the serial structure of the stacks involved simply putting one thing after another – what he called ‘a small, finite order’ – and did not in any way imply the possibility of infinite progression beyond the limits of the gallery space (Judd in Serota 2004, p.157). This work can be seen as an example of minimalist art, which emerged in America in the 1960s and prioritised the properties of the physical art object over the object’s ability to represent aspects of the world beyond the gallery. However, it should be noted that Judd disliked the term ‘minimalism’ and strongly rejected any suggestion that his work lacked complexity.
Bruce Glaser, ‘Questions to Stella and Judd’ (1964), in Gregory Battcock (ed.), Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, New York 1968, pp.148–64.
Nicholas Serota (ed.), Donald Judd, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, p.191, reproduced p.236.
Judd Tully, Jim Jacobs, Peder Bonnier and others, Stacks, exhibition catalogue, Mnuchin Gallery, New York 2013.
Supported by Christie’s.