Donald Judd's Space

April 25, 2019

Donald Judd's Space

Donald Judd’s initial pieces of Minimalist works evolved through researches with different unusual materials and mixed with painting. Judd throughout his life was interested in design and art. In the early 1960s he created sequences of paintings in liquitex, oil and sand, aluminum, masonite and wood. He constructs a painting using these materials. However, he observed that the painting is a rectangular plane shape that is hung on the wall; he believed this sort of flat plane shape limited his composition. Donald Judd explained his point of view in his essay Specific Objects explains that he wanted create art that is ‘neither painting nor sculpture’. Donald Judd created his first ‘stack’ in 1991. The work contains 10 units that are vertically placed on the wall. The space between each ‘stack’ is same as the space occupied by the units. He refers to them as Specific Objects that are three-dimensional works. Judd once said in his essay:

There has been almost no discussion of space in art, nor in the present. The most important and developed aspect of present art is unknown. This concern, my main concern, has no history. There is no context; there are no terms; there are not any theories. There is only the visible work invisible. Space is made by and artist or architect; it is not found and packaged. It is made by thought.

He emphasized the significance of the use of space, materials, and geometric shape and he eliminated the subject matter and the context in his objects.


FIGURE 1 Donald Judd, untitled1991 stainless steel and red Plexiglas, in ten parts


He used an additive schema where geometric objects equipped with a composition law to determine the length between each units and the distance of space between each units. (fig.1)


Donald Judd’s knowledge in art history and philosophy, he discussed the works of Barnett Newman and Frank Stella and the nature of art. By looking at them, he developed his objects and also his theoretical understanding of the viewer’s observation in art which, according to him the object should not have any purpose. In Specific Object he often said that what defines the objects, is the scale and, simplified shapes and synthetic materials. After he abandoned making paintings because he believed they did not ‘’occupy space’’

The Use of Industrial Materials

After the constructivist movement, Donald Judd adopted industrial materials such as metals and plastics in his work. He abandoned old artists techniques and created more geometric, abstract forms. Industrial materials that the objects look like came out from the factory.


In Donald Judd’s one of his influential essay during his time was Special Object that his approach was to create objects based on material specificity and that has no other purposes. He chooses to call his work as the objects that are three-dimensional. In his objects the material and the color is important whereas in the sculptures it is unimportant. As he refers;

 Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface. Obviously, anything in three dimensions can be any shape, regular or irregular, and can have any relation to the wall, floor, ceiling, room, rooms or exterior or none at all. Any material can be used, as is or painted. (fig. 2)

FIGURE 2 Donald Judd, untitled 1965 The Relationship of the Object to the Viewer

FIGURE 2 Donald Judd, untitled 1965 The Relationship of the Object to the Viewer

The exhibition ‘Primary Structures’ at the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1966 considered the most important show during the time. The show demonstrated works by; Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt; artists that are associated with Minimalism. Some critics during the time had reviewed the show and said ‘‘Primary Structures’ was ‘enlightened, but rarely moved.’’ Robert Morris has written series of articles Notes on Sculpture 1-4 published by Artforum, argument against some critics of the show ‘Primary Structures’. Moreover, he also approached Donald Judd’s theory of Special Objects that Judd said that he was not creating neither sculpture nor painting but something in between. Morris also adds that;


The better new work takes relationship out of the work and makes them a function of space, light and the viewer’s field of vision. (The viewer) is more aware than ever before that he himself is establishing relationships as he apprehends the object from various positions and under varying conditions of light and spatial context.

The phenomenology of size of a work has been discussed during the 1950s and 1960s. Robert Morris is one of the first people during minimalism art to articulate the experiential basis. In 1966, in his essay Notes on Sculpture 2 discusses the relationship of the object to the viewer. What is the relationship between the object and the viewer? People are usually overwhelmed with extremely big sculptures like Donald Judd has created during his lifetime. Usually with a small scale of object, the viewer creates some bound and sees the object in every aspect. However, the viewer cannot have the same feeling with a big scale of object. The object is human scale and the bound they could create with a small scale do not happen with a big scale object. In fact, minimalism is all about depicting nothing. Minimalist work never intended to create illusion or allusion it was all removed from the works.


Allusion and Illusion in Donald Judd

As Rosalind Krauss discusses this allusion and illusion in her article Allusion and Illusion in Donald Judd she criticizes that Judd’s works contains allusions and everything has some hidden meanings as Merleau Pont also discusses this notion in her essay of perceptions. The viewer adds their experiences to objects; people from different cultures can interpret differently. At the end each viewer can have different observation on the work.


Merleau-Ponty points out then that our existence is dependant on the basis of the ‘other’ whereas the essence of perception. Phenomenology is based on human experience. As Donald Judd’s purpose is just to show his ‘object’ however according to Merleau-Ponty it is impossible just to look at the work and not feel anything. The viewer consciousness interacts with the work.


What is his goal in theoretical theory?

Donald Judd’s main goal was to show his viewers to focus on the scale and the mass of the work. As oppose to Judd’s aim Morris’s main argument that was made in his articles Notes on Sculpture part 1-4 that the objects physical qualities are fundamental for sculptures. Especially on the article of Notes on Sculpture part 2 he makes his theory more clearly by saying:


The object is but one of the terms in the newer esthetic. It is in some way more reflexive, because one's awareness of oneself existing in the same space as the work is stronger than in previous work, with its many internal relationships. One is more aware than before that he himself is establishing relationships as he apprehends the object from various positions and under varying conditions of light and space.

Robert Morris wanted to create some sort of relationship between the viewer and the object. He wanted the viewer to share the same space and understand the physical qualities of his human scaled sculpture works.


Is it a design or an art?

As mentioned before, it is hard to understand the notion of Minimalism or other names referred by the art critics. There has been contradicts between the artists where Robert Morris explained his goal as to create some boundary between the viewer and the object, where on the other hand, Donald Judd insisted on the term ‘Specific’ means that the object itself has no other purpose than its presence. As Donald Judd’s theory defended that his intention was to create something between a painting and a sculpture. Some critics discussed these Minimalist artists whether to call them art piece or a design. Just like Judd’s aim the objects that were created by them are hard to define, as the definition of Minimalism is also rarely defined.



Bloemink, Barbara J, and Joseph Cunningham. Design Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread. London: Merrell Publishers in association with Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2004. Print.

2 The Notion of Minimalism explored by James Meyer. Meyer, James S. Minimalism. London: Phaidon, 2000. Print.

3 In an interview in 1964, as quoted in: Harold Rosenberg (1972) The De-Definition of Art. p. 125

4 James Meyer Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the 1960s (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000)

5 Meyer Schapiro, “The Liberating Quality of Avant-Garde Art”, Art News (Summer 1957)

6 See Roberta Smith, ‘Donald Judd’, in Donald Judd, ed. Brydon Smith (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1975) 6-15

7 Donald Judd, “Specific Objects,“ Arts Yearbook 8 (1965).

8 Judd, “Specific Objects,” op. cit., p. 74-83.

9 Donald Judd, ‘’Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular’’, first published in Artforum in 1994 in pages between 70-79

10 See Bloemink p.40, Judd also added this ‘’In the first place I was tired of that fact that it’s a rectangle (i.e. a painting), and in the second that it’s so many inches from the wall, and that no matter what you do you have to put something within the shape of the canvas.’’ Unpublished transcript, May 2, 1966, quoted in Roberta Smith, interview 6, January 1969, and in Judd 1975, p.9.

11 Judd, “Specific Objects,” op. cit., p. 74-83.

12 The show ‘Primary Structures’ reviewed by the art critic Hilton Kramerr and mentioned in James Meyer, Minimalism pg 30

13 Robert Morris’s ‘Notes on Sculpture part 1 ‘ article published by artforum and republished in Meyer, James S. Minimalism. London: Phaidon, 2000. Print.

14 Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture 2’ Artforum, vol.5, October, 1966 p.20-23

15 Rosalind Krauss commented on the visual complexity of Judd’s work in the mid-1960s. See ‘Allusion and Illusion in Donald Judd’

16 He refers objects to his works instead of calling them paintings or sculptures, see Donald Judd’s Specific Objects

17 Maurice Merleau-Ponty discussed the notion of perception in the essay of ‘The Phenomenology of Perception’.

18 Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture 2’ Artforum, vol.5, (October 1966), p.20-23

19 The terms was used by James Meyer in the book by him; Meyer, James S. Minimalism. London: Phaidon, 2000. Print.


Bloemink, Barbara J, and Joseph Cunningham. Design Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread. London: Merrell Publishers in association with Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2004.

Judd, Donald. ‘‘Specific Objects.’’ Arts Yearbook-8. New York: Art Digest Inc., 1965. Pp. 74-83.

Judd, Donald. ‘‘Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular.’’ Artforum 32:10 (Summer 1994), pp. 70-79.

Krauss, Rosalind. ‘‘Allusion and Illusion in Donald Judd.’’ Artforum 4, (May 1966).

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. ‘‘Phenomenolgy of Perception.’’ Translated by Colin Smith. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962

Meyer, James. Minimalism. London: Phaidon, 2000.

Meyer, James. Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 158.

Morris, Robert. ‘‘Notes on Sculpture 2’’ Artforum, vol.5, (Octover 1966) pp. 20-23.

Shapiro, Meyer. ‘‘The Liberating Quality of Avant- Garde Art’’, Art News, Vol. 56, No. 4, (Summer 1957), p. 38.

Smith, Roberta. ‘‘Donald Judd’’, in Donald Judd, ed. Brydon Smith, Ottowa: National Gallery of Canada, 1975, pp. 6-15.

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