Untitled (DJ 85-51) is an abstract aluminium sculpture that is mounted on the wall. Its front side features sixteen rectangular modules in the shape of boxes with open fronts, which are all painted in bold hues of red, black, pale blue or dark blue. These are screwed together in two horizontal rows of equal dimensions that are placed one on top of the other. All of the modules are the same height and depth but they vary in width, with twelve being 30 cm long and four measuring 90 cm. They are paired so that each shape is the same length as that above or below it. Each of these pairs is backed by two supporting bars – one on either side – that are attached to a series of cuboid shapes that touch the wall and mirror the composition and colours of the forms across the front of the work. The supporting bars are all either black or bright yellow. The modules in this work are arranged so that no two colours are horizontally or vertically adjacent, with all four colours in the front and back rows appearing four times on each side. The modules are all completely opaque and have matt paint surfaces.
This work was produced by the American artist Donald Judd in 1985 at his studio in Marfa, Texas. It is known that Judd often had assistants or industrial fabricators to build his sculptures under his instruction from the mid-1960s onwards. The units all have gloss paint enamelled onto their surfaces. Curator Marianne Stockebrand has noted that Judd first began to use thin sheets of aluminium such as those employed in Untitled (DJ 85-51) after encountering this material in the practice of Swiss furniture manufacturer Lehni when the firm produced a sculpture for him in 1984 (Marianne Stockebrande, ‘Catalogue’, in Tate Modern 2004, p.215).
Untitled (DJ 85-51) is one of a number of modular works featuring bold colours that Judd made between 1983 and 1990. While some of these are free-standing (such as Untitled 1989, Stedilijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam), this is one of several designed to be mounted on the wall (see also Untitled 1989, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover). Stockebrande has claimed that all of the colours used in these sculptures were taken from the standard RAL chart of commercial paint hues (Stockebrande 2004, p.215). The curator Rudi Fuchs has also reported that when in Judd’s studio during the period in which these sculptures were being made, he ‘came across drawings and collages in which colour alternations and sequences’ to be used in the works were ‘mapped out, with precise notations on the proportion of colour’ (Rudi Fuchs, ‘Donald Judd (Artist as Work)’, in Tate Modern 2004, p.24). The work was originally left untitled by Judd, with the numerical designation likely being a later addition to help identify it.
In 1993 Judd stated that in making this group of aluminium works he ‘wanted to use more and more diverse bright colors than before’ (Donald Judd, ‘Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular’, in Sprengel Museum Hannover 2000, p.114). However, he also explained that his use of colour was limited by some very particular stipulations. Specifically, he wanted to avoid especially ‘harmonious’ or ‘inharmonious’ arrangements of colour as well as combinations he saw as traditional or which had featured in his earlier works. He also ‘wanted all of the colors to be present at once. I didn’t want them to combine. I wanted multiplicity all at once that I had not known before’ (Donald Judd, ‘Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular’, in Sprengel Museum Hannover 2000, p.114). Judd’s intention of allowing each colour its own autonomy was arguably achieved through avoiding positioning modules of identical hues adjacent to one another, as well as by placing rims around each unit that separate them from one another.
Fuchs has written that at first this group of sculptures seemed shocking because their bright hues evoked a sense of ‘frivolity’, contrasting with the ‘austere, puritan’ appearance of the many ‘plain aluminium, steel or plywood’ works Judd had produced during the 1970s (Fuchs 2004, p.20; for an example of a more ‘austere’ earlier work see Untitled 1973, Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden). However, the artist rejected this distinction in 1989, stating that ‘I don’t like plain plywood or plain concrete or plain metal to be considered without color. So to me they are colored’ (Joechen Poetter, Rosemarie E. Pahlke and Donald Judd, ‘Back to Clarity: Interview with Donald Judd’, in Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden 1989, p.94). Furthermore, the art historian Dietmar Elger has argued that this and other works from the same period have helped raise awareness of the fact that Judd was interested in experimenting with colour throughout his career (Dietmar Elger, ‘Introduction (to Don Judd, Colorist)’, in Sprengel Museum Hannover, p.13).
Donald Judd, exhibition catalogue, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Baden-Baden 1989, p.94.
Donald Judd: Colorist, exhibition catalogue, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover 2000, pp.27–8, 47, 49, 114, reproduced p.61.
Donald Judd, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, p.215, reproduced p.218.
Supported by Christie’s.