521 W 21st Street
NEW YORK—The Paula Cooper Gallery will present a selection of plywood works by Donald Judd. The exhibition will include floor and wall pieces made in the late 1970s and 1980s. The works will be on view at 521 West 21st Street from 27 February until 27 March 2004.
Donald Judd started using plywood in the early 1970s. Judd favored industrial materials like aluminum, steel, plexiglas and plywood among others in part because of their ‘blankness’: they carried no artistic connotations, no particular ‘meaning’ in the history of art. They were also plain, easily assembled and could be used with precision. As such, they could best fulfill Judd’s desire to create fully intelligible objects whose impact on the viewer did not rely on metaphor or association, but rather on a highly self-aware act of ‘looking’. For Judd and many artists sharing his sensibility, issues of perception are foremost in the confrontation with a work of art. They include the viewer’s position and movement in the space, the amount and quality of light, the fluctuations resulting from a continued consideration of the work, and the understanding this consideration yields.
The wall and floor pieces included in the exhibition exemplify Judd’s description of his work as “the simple expression of complex thought.” Each of the wall pieces, whether existing individually or as part of a pair, have the same exterior dimensions (50 cm x 100 cm x 50 cm), but each presents a different treatment of interior space. In the two-unit Untitled (1989) as well as the single Untitled (1989), straight and tilted panels introduce shifts in proportion and emphasize the amount of light and shadows filling the boxes’ interior. Judd wanted the wall boxes hung at eye-level (their top edge 63 inches from the floor) so their volume and depth could best be perceived. In Untitled (floor box), a 1979 rectangular floor piece with a sloping panel running down to a lower corner, the issues of proportion, light, and volume present in the wall pieces are transferred to the floor. In both cases, the viewer’s attention is captivated by the interplay of narrow versus wide, open versus enclosed, light and shadow on the sensuous surface of the plywood.
Finally, in Untitled (1978), the cadmium red paint on the back panel is uninterrupted, fully present to the viewer ‘as it is’. In this piece, the materiality of color becomes prominent. In Judd’s words: ‘Color is like material. It is one way or another, but it obdurately exists. Its existence as it is is the main fact and not what it might mean, which may be nothing’.
One of the most influential American artists of the post-war period, Donald Judd changed the course of modern sculpture. He was born in 1928 in Excelsior Springs, Missouri and moved to New York in 1949 as a student and a fledgling artist and critic. Judd began his artistic career as a painter but switched to sculpture in the early 1960s, convinced that “color could continue no further on a flat surface […] Color to continue had to occur in space.” The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, organized the first retrospective of his work in 1968.
In 1971, he participated in the Guggenheim International Award exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, along with other Minimalist and Conceptual artists. He participated in his first Venice Biennale in 1980, and in Documenta, Kassel, in 1968 and 1982. During the first half of the 1980s, Judd drew the plans for the Chinati Foundation, Marfa; the renovated compound of buildings opened in 1986 with a permanent exhibition of his, as well as other contemporary artists’, work.
In 1987, Judd was honored by a large exhibition at the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; this show traveled to Düsseldorf, Paris, Barcelona, and Turin. The Whitney Museum of American Art organized a traveling retrospective of his work in 1988. During his lifetime, Judd published a large body of theoretical writings; these essays were consolidated in two volumes published in 1975 and 1987. The artist died February 12, 1994, in New York.
On view currently at Tate Modern, London, through 25 April 2004, is the first full retrospective of Judd’s career since 1988. In addition, an important exhibition of plywood boxes and other works by Donald Judd is on view at Dia:Beacon, New York.