Judd, Donald Clarence

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Judd, Donald Clarence

(b. 3 June 1928 in Excelsior Springs, Missouri; d. 12 February 1994 in New York City), sculptor and founder of the minimalist movement, best known for his refined freestanding geometric sculptures made from industrial materials.

The son of Roy Clarence Judd, a Western Union executive, and Effie Cowsert, Judd was born in his grandparents’ rural Missouri farmhouse. During his youth Judd’s family moved frequently, finally settling in the mid-1940s in Westwood, New Jersey, where he graduated from high school in 1946. After serving a stint in the U.S. Army, Judd returned to New Jersey and began investigating his childhood passion for art, commuting to the Art Students League in New York City in 1948. In the fall of 1949 he enrolled in Columbia University, where he studied philosophy and graduated with honors in 1953. In the evenings he continued to take courses at the Art Students League.

Judd’s educational experience was a curious mixture: at Columbia he became interested in the empirical philosophy of David Hume, and at the Art Students League he was exposed to a curriculum that stressed representation and life drawing. In his art he would later reject outright the “illusionistic deceit” of representation in favor of an empirical, factual mode of expression. In his first one-person show at the Panoras Gallery in New York City in 1957, Judd exhibited some untitled paintings that eschewed representation in favor of an almost formless geometric investigation. Although the show was favorably reviewed, Judd decided in 1957 to return to Columbia as a graduate student in art history, studying with the influential critic and art historian Meyer Schapiro. Judd himself began writing critical reviews in 1959 for Arts Magazine. He remained on its staff until 1965, also contributing essays to Art News and Art International, and he continued to write extensively throughout the next three decades. In 1964 Judd married the dancer Julie Margaret Hughan Finch; they had two children before divorcing in the 1980s.

In a series of bluntly intellectual reviews, Judd became an outspoken advocate for a new type of art. He severely questioned the European artistic tradition of composition based on the balance and harmony of the discrete parts of a painting or a sculpture. Reacting strongly against subjectivity and emotionalism, he was among those who declared painting “finished.” Judd came to believe in a non-metaphorical, autonomous, bare-bones type of art object—a pure object that could be appreciated solely for its essential formal properties of shape, color, surface, and volume. In 1964, in an important essay titled “Specific Objects” in Arts Yearbook 1965, Judd wrote: “The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting.” In 1965 the critic Barbara Rose, writing in Art in America, used the word “minimum” when she referred to this new art. By the late 1960s the term “minimalism” was in common use, but for his part, Judd preferred to call his objects “specific” and referred to himself as an “empiricist.”

In the early 1960s, Judd abandoned painting and began making boxlike sculptures out of wood, metal, and Plexiglas. Inspired in part by the neutral, geometric forms he found in the paintings of Frank Stella, Judd utilized a clean, geometric language. Eventually he evolved a signature piece characterized by a five-sided box; groups of these were often arranged serially, either freestanding or mounted on the wall. Following a successful solo show at Manhattan’s Green Gallery (1963) in which he exhibited some plywood sculptures, Judd was able to have his work fabricated for him. Throughout the next two decades, he would send specific instructions to a manufacturing firm located in nearby Long Island City. These coolly elegant constructions, often made of copper and steel, would become synonymous with the minimalist movement.

In 1966 Judd joined the prestigious Leo Castelli Gallery in Manhattan, and in the 1980s the Paula Cooper Gallery represented him. Judd exhibited his work widely, both nationally and internationally. Major retrospectives of his work occurred at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City in 1968 and in 1988 and 1989; at the Stedelijk Van Abbemmuseum, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, in 1970; and at the Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, in 1993 and 1994. In 1967 and 1976 he received National Endowment for the Arts grants and in 1968 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.

In the early 1970s Judd purchased the 45,000-acre Ayala de Chinati Ranch overlooking the Rio Grande fifty miles south of Marfa, Texas. Over time Judd acquired seventeen buildings in and around Marfa, including the former 350-acre Fort D. A. Russell military post, which he renovated and converted into installation spaces for exhibiting his sculptures. The Marfa complex became Judd’s work in progress over the next thirteen years. Outside the confines of the gallery Judd was able to realize his works on a grand scale. Particularly impressive are the large Fort Russell artillery sheds, in which Judd placed 100 aluminum box sculptures.

The 1980s were a decade of withdrawal and controversy for Judd. By 1985 he had removed himself from the New York City art scene and set up permanent residence in Texas, where he devoted his energies to the Marfa project and to a newfound passion for furniture design. In the same year, Judd became involved in a legal dispute with the Dia Art Foundation over funding for the Marfa project. Eventually a suit was avoided, and Dia and Judd joined forces to create the Chinati Foundation for the purpose of maintaining the Fort Russell exhibition spaces. In the late 1980s Judd reproached the Guggenheim Museum for acquiring artworks from the collection of Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. Judd claimed that Panza had fabricated his works, part of the acquisition, without his permission.

In his last years Judd traveled extensively with his companion, Marianne Stockebrand. He died of lymphoma at the age of sixty-five and was buried at his beloved Chinati ranch.

For more than thirty years Judd was the principle figure of the minimalist movement. His focused critical writings and spare geometric constructions profoundly influenced a generation of important sculptors and painters, including Richard Serra and Carl Andre. The rigorous ideas of minimalism put forward by Judd also found expression in dance, music, and the International Style in architecture. Despite being often misunderstood by the general public, the vehemently antiexpressionistic, cool and precise artworks of Donald Judd profoundly informed general notions of what characterized “modern” in contemporary American art.

Donald Judd, Complete Writings: 1959–1975 (1975) and Complete Writings: 1975–1986 (1986) contain Judd’s critical writings and artist statements. Barbara Haskell, Donald Judd (1988) is an exhibition catalog for Judd’s 1988 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Kenneth Baker, Minimalism (1988) is a primary source for information on the minimalist movement. The Tate Gallery Liverpool, Minimalism (1989), contains an anthology of quotations by critics and artists associated with the minimalist movement. An obituary is in the New York Times (13 Feb. 1994).

Peter Suchecki

Donald Judd

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Donald Judd

American sculptor and art writer Donald Judd (1928-1994) was best known as a major practitioner of and spokesman for Minimalism in the 1960s. His works, or "specific objects," display an overall sense of wholeness and clarity and reiterate the belief that art and idea are inseparable.

Donald Judd was born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, on June 3, 1928. By the time he had graduated from high school his family had lived in Omaha, Kansas City, Des Moines, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Westwood, New Jersey. Judd served in the U.S. Army in Korea from 1946 to 1947. In 1953 he settled in New York City, where he maintained a studio into the 1980s. In 1964 Judd married Margaret Hughan Finch. They had two children, Flavin Starbuck and Rainer Yingling.

Upon his return from Korea Judd spent a short time studying at the Art Students League in New York. From 1948 to 1949 he was enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and from 1949 to 1953 he studied at Columbia University and at the Art Students League concurrently. Judd's area of concentration at Columbia was philosophy, with particular emphasis on empiricism and pragmatism. He graduated, cum laude, in 1953 with a Bachelor of Science. Judd received a Masters in Art History from Columbia in 1962, having majored in the Renaissance and the contemporary arts. Beginning in 1953 he taught, off and on, at such diverse institutions as the Christadora Home and the Police Athletic League (1953), the Allen Stevenson School (1957-1961), the Brooklyn Institute of the Arts and Sciences (1962-1964), Dartmouth College (1966), and Yale University (1967).

In 1959, partially in an attempt to support his art-making, Judd began his career as a critic and art writer. He served as a reviewer for Art News in 1959 and that same year moved to Arts Magazine, where he asserted that painting was "finished," and where he continued as a contributing editor until 1965. In 1965 he also wrote reviews for Art International. Judd's writings are compressed and concrete and have been compared to his mature sculpture. His undergraduate interest in philosophy remains evident, as does his graduate work in art history. Judd is considered to have been one of the major spokespersons for the Minimalists in the 1960s, a period in American art when concept and art object were firmly melded. He was particularly praised for his successful integration of the artist's perspective with that of the critic and art thinker.

Donald Judd began his art-making career as a painter in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Abstract Expressionism was still the prevalent force in the New York art world. For Judd, and for many other artists of his generation, works that reflected gesture and/or the artist's physical or emotional state were no longer viable. Judd preferred to have his art reflect a set of decisions intrinsic to the individual work itself. Although he attempted to eliminate such devices as spatial illusion and reference to figure or movement from his painting, in the end he still found the very relationship between picture field and support to be object unspecific. Seeking to resolve such problems, Judd began working in three dimensions around 1962. His first works of this period were reliefs and, soon after, pieces built for the floor. As the result of his initial attempts to translate field and support into real space, he began to work with boxes, a form which was to become the signature of his mature work. By 1963 he began to produce his long wall boxes, which served as a source for his series of progressions—structures which depend upon mathematical systems and thereby avoid reference to composition. Judd, who had been painting his works with industrial pigments, first made use of industrial fabrications in metal in 1964. By 1970 Judd began designing site specific pieces and by 1972 larger scale outdoor works which reflected their surroundings.

Judd was viewed as an advocate of objective sculpture and non-relational art. His decision to attempt to do away with compositional effects was based on his belief that composition carried with it all the structures and values of the European tradition. Judd linked composition to rationalism, and he preferred to think of himself as an antirationalist. In his works—which always affirm their aesthetic purpose—the artist-repeatedly insisted that the whole is more important than the parts.

Judd's sculpture, usually untitled, is identified with the collection within which it is housed. His works, or "specific objects," are included in numerous private collections and in the permanent holdings of a host of such major public institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Hirshhorn, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery of Canada. Special note should be made of the following from the extensive list of Judd's exhibitions. After Judd's first and only one-man show as a painter, in 1957, he decided not to show his two-dimensional work again. He exhibited his first "relief in three dimensions" at the Brooklyn Museum in 1962, and in 1963 his sculpture was included in the first of a series of Green Gallery Exhibitions (New York). In 1966 Leo Castelli, who remained Judd's dealer into the 1980s, presented the first of many Judd exhibitions at the Castelli Gallery (New York), a show composed exclusively of industrially manufactured metal pieces. In 1968 the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a Judd retrospective, as did the National Gallery of Canada in 1975.

In his later years, he designed furniture and redesigned several buildings in and around Marfa, Texas, where he maintained one of his homes. At his death, he was designing a fountain and a railroad station facade in Switzerland, where he also maintained a residence.

Further Reading

Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-1975 (1975); offers an overview of this important aspect of Judd's career; the catalogue for the 1978 Whitney retrospective, Don Judd by William Aggee, also provides access to selected writings by the artist; Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, Gregory Battcock, ed. (1968), contains an interview with Judd; Icons and Images of the Sixties by Nicolas and Elena Calas (1971); Donald Judd, the catalogue of the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada (1975), includes an essay by Roberta Smith, a catalogue raisonne, a list of exhibitions, and a selective bibliography. □

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