Donald Judd
Biography of American Minimalist Sculptor.

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development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Donald Judd (1928-94)

One of the greatest abstract sculptors of the late 20th century, the American designer and art theorist Donald Judd was a leading exponent of Minimalism, although he himself did not use the term. In fact he didn't describe himself as a 'sculptor', either. He is best known for his focus on the constructed object and the space created by it, as illustrated by his "Specific Objects" series, and his vertically arranged "Stacks" series, both series of abstract sculpture being made from industrially fabricated materials. From 1970 onwards he began making site-specific sculpture, including outdoor works. At the end of the 1970s he relocated to his ranch in Marfa, Texas, although he also maintained a studio in New York. During the 1980s he began designing furniture, and also houses. In addition to his challenging and avant-garde art, he was also a prolific writer on the theory of abstract art, publishing a number of essays as well as two volumes of Complete Writings, in 1976 and 1986. Judd was a favourite artist of the British collector Charles Saatchi (b.1943) and his work features in numerous prestigious collections of contemporary art. Other important minimalist sculptors include Tony Smith (1912-80), Sol LeWitt (b.1928), Carl Andre (b.1935), Dan Flavin (1933-1996), Robert Morris (b.1931) and Richard Serra (b.1939).

For a list of the world's most
talented 3-D artists, see:
Greatest Sculptors.

For a list, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.

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John De Andrea (b.1941)

Early Life & Education

Donald Clarence Judd was born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, in the same year as the great modernist Andy Warhol (1928-87). From 1946-7 he served in the Army as an engineer. After this he enrolled at the Art Students League, New York, before attending The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1949, he moved back to New York to take a philosophy degree at Columbia University while also attending night classes at the Art Students League. (In 1962 he earned a Masters in the history of art at Columbia.) During the late 1950s and early 1960s Judd supported himself by writing freelance articles for several American publications, notably Arts Magazine, and ARTnews. He started his career as a practising artist in the late 1950s, producing a series of unspectacular abstract paintings. In 1957, he had his first one-man show at the Panoramas Gallery, which led nowhere.

Switch To Sculpture

Then, in the early 1960s, he switched from painting to sculpture and also began to take an interest in architecture. This move into 3-D plastic art released Judd's natural talent and thirst for innovation. After first exploring highly textured monochrome relief sculpture, he began employing industrial processes and materials in his works - including concrete, steel, plywood and colour-impregnated Plexiglas - in order to create large, hollow Minimalist sculptures, typically in the form of boxes, which he arranged in repetitive geometric forms.


His second one-man exhibition took place at the Green Gallery, New York, in 1963. This was followed in 1966 by the first of a long series of individual exhibitions at the Leo Castelli Gallery NY, and by his participation in the important "Primary Structures" group exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York. In 1968 he was given a retrospective by the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art. Meantime, during the period 1962-4 he worked as a teacher at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, and in 1966 became visiting artist at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. In 1967, he taught sculpture at Yale University. During the 60s, he also received several fellowships and grants, including one from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1968.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate postmodernist abstract sculptors like Donald Judd, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

"Specific Objects"

Judd's distinctive contribution to plastic art during the 1960s was his freestanding "specific objects", so-called after the title of his seminal essay published in Arts Yearbook, 1965, which used a number of industrially fabricated metal boxes to create a "complete work", which was not dependent on illusion or represented space (cf. real space). Moreover, he refused to call his work "sculpture", on the basis that it had not been sculpted but manufactured by industrial processes. Another important set of works was his "Stacks" series.

Judd's "Specific Objects" series epitomizes his uncompromising view of minimalist art. He insists, for example, that these objects mean absolutely nothing beyond what they present to the viewer. In a similar fashion, his "Stacks" series demonstrates Judd's purist-like simplification of colour, shape, volume and surface. He insists that each work, typically made of metal or plexiglas, be looked at as a whole, not as a collection of parts.

New York Venue

In 1968, Judd acquired a five-storey building in New York that enabled him to begin displaying his postmodernist art in a more permanent fashion than was possible in a regular gallery or museum setting. This signalled his growing interest in taking control of the display process, rather than remain dependent on exhibition curators who naturally placed a higher value on attracting the viewing public, than on displaying the art to its best advantage.


In 1971, Judd was invited to show at the Guggenheim International Award exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, along with other Minimalist and Conceptual artists. In 1973, he began spending time in Marfa, Texas, which became his permanent home until he died. In 1975 he enjoyed a one-man show at The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and in 1976 he served as Baldwin Professor of Art at Oberlin College, Ohio. Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-75 was published in the same year.

In 1979, he bought a 340-acre parcel of desert land in the vicinity of Marfa, which included an abandoned U.S. Army Fort. Judd converted its disused buildings into studios and installation spaces, to house works by himself and others, including Carl Andre, John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Coosje Van Bruggen, David has been run by the charitable Chinati Foundation. In 1996, the Judd Foundation was established to maintain Judd's own works at Marfa and at his New York venue at 101 Spring Street.

1980s and 1990s

From the early 80s onwards, Judd began making furniture in a similar style to his sculpture. He also designed houses and spoke at colleges and universities across the United States, Europe and Asia, on the subject of art and its association with architecture.

In addition, during the period 1982-1986, he installed 100 aluminium boxes in two refurbished munitions sheds at Marfa, Texas. Each box has an open panel through which one can see the interior. Identical in both size and component materials, the seriality of the installation is disrupted because each single box is unique, carying with the light and weather.

Later in the decade, he published the second edition of his writings - Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1975-86 - while retrospectives of his work were held at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1987), afterwards travelling to Dusseldorf, Paris, Barcelona, and Turin; the Whitney Museum of American Art (1988); and The Saint Louis Art Museum (1991). In 1992, he was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm.

Donald Judd died of lymph cancer in New York, in February 1994, at the age of 65.


Judd is regarded by many art critics as one of the greatest American sculptors of the contemporary era, and a leading spokesman for the minimalist movement. His 1965 essay "Specific Objects" was seen as a manifesto for minimalist sculpture. Since his death, major exhibitions of his work have been held at several of the best galleries of contemporary art, including the Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Japan (1999); the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2001); and the Tate Modern in London (2004).

The famous art collector Charles Saatchi assesses Judd as one of the greatest postmodernist artists. He said: "General art books dated 2105 will be as brutal about editing the late twentieth century as they are about other centuries. Every artist other than Jackson Pollock (1912-56), Andy Warhol (1928-87), Donald Judd (1928-94) and Damien Hirst (b.1965) will be a footnote."

Selected Abstract Sculptures

Works by Donald Clarence Judd can be seen in the best art museums around the world. Here is a short selected list of the artist's important works.

- Untitled (1963) oil and plywood, Hirshhorn Museum.
- Untitled (1966) galvanized iron, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
- Untitled (Stack) (1967) lacquer on galvanized iron, MoMA, New York.
- Untitled (1968) stainless steel, Milwaukee Art Museum.
- Untitled (1968) brass, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Untitled Progression (1969) aluminium, Museum of Contemporary Art, LA.
- Untitled (Stack) (1969) lacquer on galvanized iron, MoMA, NY
- Untitled (1969) stainless steel, Samuel R Guggenheim Museum, New York.
- Untitled (1970) stainless steel, Samuel R Guggenheim Museum, New York.
- Wall Progression (1971) aluminum, Museum of Contemporary Art, LA.
- Untitled (1973) lithograph, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
- Untitled (Six Boxes) copper and plexiglas, National Gallery of Australia.
- Untitled (Meter Box) (1975) copper, LA Museum of Contemporary Art, LA.
- Untitled (1976) plywood, Museum of Contemporary Art, LA.
- Untitled (1977) stainless steel, Des Moines Art Center.
- Untitled (1978) plywood, Berkeley Art Museum, University of California.
- Untitled (1982) aluminium and violet plexiglas, Private Collection.
- Untitled (1982-6) (52 works) milled aluminium, Judd Foundation, Texas.
- Untitled (1988) aluminum and plexiglas, Dallas Museum of Art.
- Untitled (1989) aluminum, Cleveland Museum of Art.
- Untitled (1993) brass and green plexiglas, Private Collection.

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