Donald Judd is born in Excelsior Springs, Miss. His studies of philosophy and art history take him first to Williamsburgh and then to New York (1948 — 52). In his paintings and drawings he first focuses on the aesthetic implementations of spatial configurations (The League Stairwell, 1952). Yet he soon turns away from representational painting, and in 1955 he starts his first geometrically-abstract works. From 1959 to 1965 Judd works as an art critic for Arts Magazine. This provides the possibility to theoretically engage with Pop Art and Action Painting, topics he takes up again in his »Complete Writings«, published in 1975.
For Judd, the transition from picture to object proceeds via picture-like assemblages. He paints on hardboard and, after 1961, starts incorporating geometrical objects into the picture. In 1962 he turns away from painting altogether and starts looking for principles of representation that break with illusionism. Relief-like, rectangular wood and metal constructions with smoothed and painted monochrome surfaces emerge, soon followed by hollow boxes fixed to the wall that Judd arranges in vertical rows (Stacks) and horizontal rows (Progressions). Its console-like single elements which might be arranged separately or as an ensemble aresometimes aligned according to mathematical series (Fibonacci). In 1963 Judd’s work is shown together with that of Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly in a well-received exhibition at Green Gallery, New York. The works shown at the exhibition are considered the beginning of Minimal Art »avant la lettre.« As a generic term denoting the specific style of the above-mentioned artists, Minimal Art is only coined in 1965, and Judd has consistently rejected the label for his own work.
In 1963 Judd’s first free-standing boxes are created, and, compared to the wall reliefs, they have much more clearly defined static, object-like qualities. Like bulkystorage boxes they are designed as visibly hollow bodies in the shape of a rectangular block. Often the base plate is missing, and narrow edges make the thinness of the material clearly visible. After 1964 Judd starts using plywood instead of painted wood, and eventually he turns to industrially produced metals (sheet metal, brass, aluminum) as well as Plexiglas.
In his essay »Specific Objects« Judd defines the foundation for his work to follow (Arts Yearbook, 8/1965). He especially stresses his distance from a »European tradition« whose »compositional effects« he considers obsolete (radio interview with Bruce Glaser, 1964). Searching for a basic, non-narrative and non-hierarchical principle of order, Judd declares the rectangular block to be his paradigmatic shape. Divisions and serial arrangements define the sense impressions in which, Judd argues, principles of Gestalt perception manifest themselves. Soon the artist starts to have the boxes built with standardized materials, in order to completely separate handicraft and industrial production and their standardizations from the process of artistic creation, a method met with criticism in the art world.
With the programmatic exhibition »Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors« that takes place in the Jewish Museum, New York, Judd’s work is presented along with that of a group of artists such as Carl Andre, Sol Lewitt, Robert Morris, and Toni Smith. In 1968 the Whitney Museum of American Art shows the first retrospective of Judd’s work.
After 1969 works emerge that increasingly reflect inner and outer space – be it through objects that refer to concrete spaces or through Judd’s own designing of furniture or his work as an architect. With his acquisition of a complex of buildings in Marfa, Texas, in 1973 and his creation of a foundation, Judd provides a space for his own work and for that of other artists of Minimal and Concept Art.
Donald Judd dies in New York in 1994.
Donald Judd: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen Düsseldorf u.a., hg. v. Nicholas Serota, Köln 2004
Donald Judd. Architektur: Ausst.-Kat. Museum für Angewandte Kunst Wien, hg v. Peter Noever, Stuttgart 1991
Donald Judd: Ausst.-Kat. Staatl. Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, hg. v. Jochen Poetter, Baden-Baden 1989// Donald Judd. Paintings, Objects and Wood-Blocks 1960 — 1974: Ausst.-Kat. National Gallery of Canada, hg. v. Brydon Smith, Ottawa 1975