Donald Judd

New York

at David Zwirner


This presentation of nine anodized-aluminum boxes, identical in size and date, offered a welcome look at an imposing permutational series. Donald Judd’s boxes belong to a set of 12 fabricated in Europe for a 1989 exhibition at the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. They have not been shown as an extensive group since that time. Situated on the floor, the big, open-topped half-cubes measure 2 meters square by 1 meter high (or 78 3/4 inches square by 39 3/8 inches high).

They are subtly varied as to internal structure, being traversed by either one or two vertical partitions that are either the same height as the boxes or half that; the half-height panels either rise from the boxes’ floors, or descend halfway down from the top edges. Nearly all the boxes are enlivened by inset panels of colored Plexiglas—orange, black, bright blue; these panels lie flat at the bottom, invisible until observed inside each structure from fairly close up. Transverse elements in metal, anodized in the same colors, are visible from farther away.

The components are simple, the structures self-evident. But a riot of color and light ensued as one walked among the structural units, installed under the gallery’s skylights. Reflections on silvery metal multiplied and colors mixed. Clouds passed, producing different kinds of daylight. The big Plexiglas sheets threw back slightly uneven, watery reflections of ceilings and skylights, enhancing the painterly effects. The colors oppose each other dramatically: brilliant silver contradicts light-devouring black; hard, vibrant blue complements radiant orange. The colors occur in various combinations throughout the series, different each time.

Judd’s penchant for color was evident, of course, in his origins as a painter, as well as in the intense, sometimes exotic (even Day-Glo) colors he introduced into his three-dimensional works by painting them, anodizing the metal or incorporating colored Plexiglas. The latter two schemes interact in the series at Zwirner. Particularly subtle is Untitled (Menziken 89-6), in which the blue takes on slightly different characteristics as it is embodied in contrasting materials. The Plexiglas floor of the box is a sober ultramarine, crossed by a blue anodized partition that shines with a slightly greenish cast. The bright narrow band crossing the deep blue field suggests a Barnett Newman painting. These are relatively late works (Judd died in 1994). The contrapuntal interplay of structure and color, the clash between austerity and sensuality, show an opening out, an embrace of complexity implicit much earlier but in his later work, as here, given free rein.

Photo: Donald Judd: Untitled (Menziken 89-2),1989, anodized aluminum with amber and black Plexiglas, 39 3/8 by 78 3/4 by 783⁄4 inches; at David Zwirner