Boxed in

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1972

Though historically sculpture might have been rooted in the figurative and decorative, clearly from the point at which Marcel Duchamp declared readymade objects to be art, all bets were off about what could become sculpture and how and why this might happen. And, along with readymade objects, industrial materials and processes have long been legitimate territory for artists. Like other artists broadly known as minimalists – though it was a term he rejected – Donald Judd focused his attention on the inherent qualities of his materials which he used in a simple, straightforward way making ambiguous works that act as sculpture but often seem, in some way, closer to functional objects.

Untitled (87-29 Studer), 1987

With the work made by fabricators rather than sculpted in any traditional sense, Judd also rejected the term sculpture, though of course this is how his work is most often talked about. The intervening decades have seen such practices become ever more prevalent and perhaps it’s the near ubiquity of fabricated works that make us ignore the distinction Judd was drawing and consider the work as sculpture regardless.

The use of colour and of reflective surfaces is part of what makes Judd’s work so fascinating for me, but there’s also something compelling about the sheer physical presence and unashamed industrial resonances of the largest pieces.

100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum, 1993 (installed at Marfa, Texas)

Judd’s work seems to follow rigidly defined geometries, allowing it to relate to the space it occupies in an interesting way. The idea of negative space is also a useful one to keep in mind; just as the sculpture occupies space so it also redefines the space around it.

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