Rules and repetition

Donald Judd, ‘Untitled’ 1973
Donald Judd
Untitled 1973
© Donald Judd Foundation/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2020

Rules, logic and mathematics have played a part in the creation of art since the Renaissance in order to achieve compositional harmony. In the early part of the twentieth century, this interest came to the fore as movements such as Purism, Orphism, Neo-Plasticism and Constructivism adopted a more formal approach, with the application of geometry, colour theory and science. Theo van Doesburg, Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian employed rigorous systems within their predominantly abstract work. Their ideas had a profound influence on subsequent generations of artists that was global in extent and not limited to their immediate European contemporaries.

Minimalist artists used pre-fabricated units of material that were predominantly monochrome. They were not concerned with the physical or emotional act of producing art but the application of intellectual and rational procedures. They had much in common with Conceptual, Idea or Process artists whose work was primarily the manifestation of an idea rather than the creation of an object. These artists, working in the 1960s and 1970s, believed that art did not need to represent anything other than itself. Their preferred methods of representation included the use of recorded sequences, plotted grids, graphs and dispassionately arranged geometric forms and boxes. The cube and square were considered ideal units as they were governed by logic and could be repeated ad infinitum.

Donald Judd dispenses completely with the base to make sculpture for the wall and floor from precise geometrical forms, fabricated from polished and coloured metal to a mathematically determined symmetry. Michael Craig-Martin, who often makes use of ordinary household materials in his sculptures, has applied a logically unified progression to identical boxes. In contrast, Luis Camnitzer uses similar units in order to subvert the self-referential detachment normally associated with this kind of art, as he makes reference to the serial nature of torture and repression in his native Latin America.