Untitled, No. 85–065, 1985
30 x 120 x 30 cm
Hermann und Margrit Rupf-Stiftung, Kunstmuseum Bern
© Donald Judd, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016
“There are a lot of rectangles in the world and one that I have made exists as one of them. The idea of a rectangle exists only as an idea, which is easy for rectangles and difficult for most ideas.” Donald Judd, 2000 
Donald Judd (Excelsior Springs, Missouri, USA, 1928–New York, USA, 1994) studied philosophy, fine arts and art history in New York. He started his artistic career as a painter in the 1940’s while he earned a living writing criticism in art journals. Dissatisfied with painting, towards the end of the 1950s he began to seek new forms of expression and developed a keen interest in sculpture and architecture.
His inquiry and exploration into three-dimensional art dovetailed with other artists of his generation taking an increasing interest in the physical environs of the work, which they regarded as an integral part of it . These artists, known as minimalists, began to create based on simplified geometric shapes, using industrial materials and challenging the traditional notions of art. Minimalism emerged as a force counter to Abstract Expressionism. While Abstract Expressionism focused on gestural, intuitive expression, Minimalism referred solely to the materials and their arrangement in or relationship with space. The work of art thus became a product of interpretation among the object, the viewer and the space where it is located .
The works created by Judd in the 1980’s were classified as minimalist, even though the artist denied being affiliated with this artistic movement. He did not like this label, even though he shared many of the principles of the movement, such as the use of industrial materials to create abstract works that highlighted the purity of the color, shape, space, and materials .
During this same period, Judd began to build a series of aluminum boxes. Untitled No. 85-065 is one of them, an abstract sculpture that Judd designed in 1985 to be mounted on the wall. It is made up of different-colored modules of the same size and proportions; it is crafted of aluminum in the shape of an open box. The use of pure geometric shapes was one of the main objectives of Judd’s works. To highlight them, the artist paid special attention to color, which he applied using industrial techniques such as thermo-lacquering or galvanization. The enamel colors he used to paint the aluminum panels of Untitled No. 85-065 were chosen from a list of standard industrial colors instead of being created exclusively for Judd .
Both Judd and the other minimalist artists rejected the idea that art should reflect personal ideas and be a medium of expression for artists. For this reason, he did not use color to express his feelings or moods but instead simply to delimit the space . However, the juxtaposition of colors was the essential part of the work: Judd approached arranging the color with a mathematical acuteness, deliberately coordinating the work in such a way that no rectangular color block would touch another unit of the same color in order to avoid more obvious harmonies or contrasts . He distributed these colors around the work without seeking to create a harmonious whole.
The artist preferred to describe his style and oeuvre as “the simple expression of complex thinking” . To Judd, his pieces, which he called “specific objects,” were neither paintings nor sculptures but simply autonomous objects which were merely self-referential since they did not represent anything else . These objects were created in factories using everyday industrial materials with the intention of eliminating any kind of personal imprint. Untitled No. 85–065 is a specific object made with painted aluminum panels. It is an exploration of space and color in which techniques and materials from industrial manufacturing were used.
Look carefully at the work. What geometric shapes can you see in it? What material do you think it is made of? What draws your attention in the work? Do you think that the colors of the rectangles are placed randomly or are they deliberate? Why? Justify your answer. This work was designed to be mounted on the wall. How would your perception of it change depending on its placement? Would it be different if it were placed atop a pedestal? What if it were resting directly on the floor?
According to the artist, before he created his first works, sculptures were always displayed on a stand in museums and never placed directly on the floor . Do you think that works are viewed the same way if they are on a stand or on the floor? How would your perception of this work change if you saw it on a stand, floating on the wall, or resting on the ground? Which one would you prefer and why? Do you think the artist should be the one to decide how his or her work should be displayed, or should an expert in exhibitions decide?
Many works from 1985 were designed by Judd and crafted in his studio in Texas, USA, following his instructions. It is a common fact that the artist often had assistants or industrial manufacturers build his works following his instructions, while he never touched them. What do you think about Judd’s working procedure? What advantages and disadvantages might it have? Why do you think he chose to work like that? Do you think it is important for the artist to be physically involved in making the work? Are you aware of other artists who work or worked in this same way?
Donald Judd said: “If someone says your work is art, it’s art.”  Reflect with the class on what you think about this statement. Do you agree or not? Why?
Create a minimalist work of art
First research the Minimalist Art movement: its context, its features, etc. Look for other artists who worked within this movement.
Then, at home create a work of art following these criteria:
- the piece should be abstract
- the shape should be simple and geometric
- you should use materials from industrial manufacturing or industrial techniques
- you should stress the purity of color
- you have to eliminate any kind of mark that shows you have worked on the piece with your own hands
Bring your work to class and compare it with your classmates’ works. Reflect on the similarities and differences among the works.
Write an essay
Explore the website of the Donald Judd Foundation. Look at the art section and examine the artist’s works: http://juddfoundation.org/artist/art/ In what way do you think they resemble each other? In what way are they different? Choose the works you like the best and the least. Write a brief essay justifying your choices.
- Donald Judd, “Some aspects of colour in general and red and black in particular”, Donald Judd Colorist, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. 111
Abstract Expressionism: A US painting movement which developed in New York in the 1940s. It was based on defending the free and spontaneous expression of the artist’s emotions without referring to any representation or physical reality.
Minimalism: A style that emerged in New York during the 1960s which is characterized by its geometric shapes and the use of minimum resources, that is, reducing the work to the essence and stripping it of superfluous elements. In minimalist art, the viewer’s experience before the work of art is the main focus.
Donald Judd Foundation
Biography of Donald Judd in Spanish
Tate Gallery. Information on Donald Judd
Collection of the Rupf Foundation
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Resources for educators on Donald Judd