Donald Judd

gigatos | February 19, 2022


Donald Clarence Judd (June 3, 1928 – February 12, 1994) was an American artist associated with the Minimalist movement. His work is based on a constant search for autonomy and clarity of the constructed object, resulting in an artistic presentation of a space without apparent hierarchy. Judd created a wide variety of works described as “effervescent” with the intention of challenging the term “minimalist”; however, he continues to be considered the leading exponent of the movement and the most important theorist due to writings such as Specific Objects (1964).

Judd was born in the city of Excelsior Springs, Missouri. In 1946, with a degree in engineering, he served in the Army for a couple of years. In 1948 he began his studies in philosophy at the College of William and Mary, later continuing at Columbia University. At Columbia, he earned a B.A. in Philosophy and an M.A. in Art History under the tutelage of Rudolf Wittkower and Meyer Schapiro. During that period he also attended evening classes at the Art Students League of New York, making a living as an art critic for major art magazines. In 1968 Judd purchased an iron building, located at 101 Spring Street and designed by Nicholas Whyte in 1870, for less than $70,000. The property acted as his New York City residence and studio; for the next 25 years, Judd renovated the building floor by floor.

First stage

In the late 1940s, Donald Judd began painting. His first solo exhibition of expressionist paintings opened in New York in 1957. From the mid-1950s until 1961, Judd explored woodcut, progressively shifting his technique from figurative to increasingly abstract elements, from organic forms to meticulous works made of straight lines and angles. His artistic style moved away from fictional media and embraced constructions in which materialism was the fundamental focus. Donald had no solo exhibitions until the Green Gallery in 1963, an exhibition of works he considered, at last, worthy of showing.

By 1963 Judd established an essential vocabulary of the forms on which his work would be based for the next thirty years: clusters, boxes, and progressions. Most of his output was “specific objects” (the name of his essay published in Arts Yearbook 8, 1965), using simple and often repeated forms with the intention of exploring space and its use. Common materials such as metal, industrial wood, and concrete became staples of his work. His first box-like structure was made in 1964, and the first using polymethylmethacrylate a year later. During that same year he began to work on wall sculptures, developing, for the first time, the format of progression of curves in such works. In 1964, although he had always made his works individually or in collaboration with his father Roy Judd, he began to delegate the fabrication of the works to craftsmen and professionals (Bernstein Brothers) providing them with his drawings as a guide. In 1965 Judd created his first cluster or stack, an arrangement of identical iron bars extending from the floor to the ceiling.

In 1964, as a result of leaving painting for sculpture, he wrote the manifesto Specific Objects. In his essay, Judd finds a new starting point for American art, rejecting inherited European artistic values: the illusion and representation of space, contrasting it with real space. As part of his argument he proposes the analysis of a wide variety of artists active in New York during the period, among them Lucas Samaras, John Chamberlain, Jasper Johns, Dan Flavin, George Earl Ortman and Lee Bontecou. The works Judd had fabricated became difficult to classify; Donald refused to call them sculptures, pointing out that they had not been sculpted, but made by fabricators using industrial processes. The categorical identity of such undefined objects, as well as the reluctance to associate them with common conventions was part of the new value proposed by Judd. In 1966 Donald presented two pieces in the Primary Structures exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, where, during a panel discussion, he challenged Mark di Suvero”s statement “real artists make their own art,” arguing that the methods didn”t matter, as long as the results were art; an innovative concept that proved to be accepted. In 1968, the Whitney Museum of American Art organized a retrospective of his work that did not include any of his early paintings.

In 1968, Judd purchased a five-story building in New York, which allowed for increasingly permanent installations of his and others” work. Judd believed that temporary exhibitions, when designed by curators, placed the art in the background, degrading it due to incompetence on the part of the curators. This became a major concern for Judd, the idea of permanent installations prevailed, as did his growing distaste for the art world.

Second stage

In the early 1970s, Judd”s works increased in scale and complexity. He began to make room-sized installations, turning the viewing of his art into a physical experience. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he produced works considered radical, eschewing classical European ideals at all costs. Judd believed that art should not represent anything, but simply exist. His aesthetic stood against illusion and falsity, producing works that were clear, strong and defined. Judd was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts at Northern Kentucky University to produce an 8-foot-tall sculpture made of aluminum, which was unveiled in 1976. Untitled, another work produced during this period, is a concrete sculpture with steel reinforcements, installed at Laumeier Sculpture Park in 1977.

Judd began working with plywood in the early 1970”s, the material quickly grew on him due to its structural qualities, allowing him to expand the size of his works without problems of buckling, and plywood had been a common element in his work previously, but this time he kept it unpainted. Plywood had been a common element in his previous works, but on this occasion he kept it unpainted. In 1980 he began to use cut steel for the realization of large outdoor pieces. The works made with such material are the artist”s only works made in Marfa. Judd began working with enamel on aluminum in 1984, after commissioning Lehni AG to construct a work with rivets of the material in the form of thin sheets. These pieces were initially created for a temporary outdoor exhibition in the Merian Park in Basel. Judd continued to produce pieces with such techniques throughout the 1990s. Enamel on aluminum greatly expanded his color palette. With his new palette, Judd created five large-scale pieces and a large number of wall works with unique variations in color and size. There is only one known work on granite, located in Sierra Blanca, the structure is composed of two vertical slabs resting on the ground, the roof of the structure extending to the outer edges of the walls.

Design and architecture

During his later years, Judd worked with furniture, design and architecture. He was careful to distinguish his design from his art, writing in 1993:

“The configuration and scale of art cannot be transposed to furniture or architecture. The intent of art is different, the design must be functional. If a chair or a building is not functional, if it is just art, it is ridiculous. The art of a chair is not art, it is part of its utility…. A work of art exists as itself, a chair exists only as a chair.”

His first furniture design was in 1973, when he moved from New York to Marfa. His designs included chairs, beds, shelves, desks and tables. Judd was driven, initially, because of his dissatisfaction with what was available in Marfa. The first furniture Judd made was of rough pine, but he would later refine the construction by implementing craftsmanship and a variety of techniques and materials from around the world. In 1984, Judd commissioned Lehni AG in Dübendorf, Switzerland to produce his designs in veneer, with monochromatic ranges based on the RAL color standard. These designs continue to be produced and sold through the Judd Foundation. During 1984, Judd, based on his experience with metal furniture, created a series of colorful works using the same techniques. At the time of his death, Judd was working on a fountain for the city of Winterthur and a new glass façade for a railroad station in Basel, Switzerland.

Chinati Foundation

In the early 1970”s Judd began traveling to Baja California. Donald was struck by the empty, clean desert, giving him a strong attachment to the land. In 1971 he rented a house in Marfa, Texas as an antidote to the hectic New York art world. He would later purchase numerous buildings and the Ayala Ranch in Chinati (243 km²), all carefully restored to his standards. Land around the ranch headquarters was sold, however the Judd Foundation maintains the buildings.

In 1979, with the help of the Dia Art Foundation, Judd purchased a piece of desert land near Marfa, Texas, which included abandoned buildings belonging to Fort D.A. Russell, a U.S. military man. The Chinati Foundation opened in 1986 as a non-profit art foundation dedicated to Judd and his contemporaries. The permanent collection consists of works by Judd, John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin and others such as David Rabinowitch, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Carl Andre and Coosje Van Bruggen. Judd”s work at Marfa includes 15 exterior concrete works and 100 aluminum pieces.


Judd taught at several academic institutions in the United States throughout his life, including: Allen-Stevenson School (1960), Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (1962 to 1964), Dartmouth College, Hanover (1966) and Yale University, New Haven (1967). In 1976 he served as a professor at Oberlin College, Ohio. Beginning in 1983, he taught art and its relationship to architecture at universities around the world. Throughout his life, Judd published a large number of theoretical writings, in which he promoted minimalist art, these essays were consolidated in two volumes published in 1975 and 1987.

The Panoramas Gallery organized Judd”s first solo exhibition in 1957 and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York organized the first retrospective of his work in 1968. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York organized the first retrospective of his work in 1968. During this period, Judd received a number of important grants, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1968. In 1975, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa organized an exhibition of Judd”s work and published a catalog of his work. He participated in his first Venice Biennale in 1980 and in Documenta in Kassel in 1982.

In 1987 Judd was honored with a major exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; that exhibition traveled to Düsseldorf, Paris, Barcelona and Turin. The Whitney Museum organized a retrospective of his work in 1988. In 2004 he was recognized at the Tate Modern, London. In 2019 some of his works were presented in the exhibition Minimalism, Post-Minimalism and Conceptualism.

Judd”s work is in collections around the world, some of which include: the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran, Iran; the Hallen für Neue Kunst Schaffhausen, Switzerland; the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich; Tate Modern and Tate Britain, London, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Dia: Beacon, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington.

Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, represented Judd from 1965 to 1985. Judd worked with Paula Cooper Gallery, with whom he had a series of solo exhibitions, and with PaceWildenstein, who represented him until the end of his life. Judd”s work has been represented, through the Judd Foundation, by David Zwirner since 2010.

Prices for Judd”s works first peaked in 2002, when a group of six boxes sold for $4.2 million. Judd”s largest stack, with 10 galvanized iron elements and ten-inch intervals (1977) fetched $9.8 million at Christie”s in 2007. Untitled, made of stainless steel in 1968 sold for $4.9 million in 2009. As of 2013, the artist”s auction record is held by Untitled (DSS 42) (1963), a large-scale sculpture made of galvanized iron, aluminum and wood, sold for $14.165 million at Christie”s New York in 2013.

Conceived in 1977, and created until 1996, the Judd Foundation was born to preserve Judd”s work and installations in Marfa, Texas and at 101 Spring Street in New York. In 2006, the Judd Foundation decided to auction 36 sculptures in order to cover the costs of restoring the foundation”s buildings. The Foundation”s Board of Trustees asked one of its members, Richard Schlagman, to ask Christie”s and Sotheby”s for proposals for the sale of the works. Christie”s offered $21 million as collateral and a five-week exhibition space in New York; the exhibition won an AICA award for “Best Installation in an Alternative Space” in 2006. The $20 million in proceeds enabled the Foundation to fulfill its mission, supporting the 16 permanent installations at 101 Spring Street in New York and buildings in Marfa, Texas. Marianne Stockebrand, director of the Chinati Foundation, resigned her seat on the Judd Foundation board in protest of the auction.

In 2013, the Judd Foundation, led by the artist”s children, completed the $23 million renovation of 101 Spring Street.

Judd married dancer Julie Finch in 1964 (he was the father of two sons: Flavin Starbuck Judd and Rainer Yingling Judd. Donald died of lymphoma in 1994 while in Manhattan. Judd had homes in Manhattan, Marfa, Texas and Küssnacht am Rigi, Switzerland.


  1. Donald Judd
  2. Donald Judd
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