Donald Judd, Untitled, 1965. Aluminum and lacquer, 8 1/4 × 253 × 8 1/4 in. (21 × 642.6 × 21 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation Inc. 66.53
NARRATOR: This 1965 work by Donald Judd hangs on the wall—encouraging us to look at it head on, like a painting. When we do, it appears to be a series of deep violet boxes suspended from a long aluminum bar. There’s something almost improbable about the way the visually solid units hang below the silver beam. This gives the work a delicate, airy appearance.
Things change when we move around to one of the ends. Here, we realize that the purple forms are really L-shaped brackets, and that they’re what supports the hollow silver beam. Seeing how the piece works structurally makes it seem almost architectural—as though we were looking down a long colonnade supporting a facade. But unlike a row of classical columns, the brackets are all different widths—and they’re unevenly spaced. As the work recedes into the distance it doesn’t act like the laws of perspective suggest it should. Instead of getting progressively smaller, the units are staggered, with some expanding where we expect them to contract.
This irregularity encourages us to return to our original frontal view, and to try to gauge the relationship between the purple units and the space between them. There is an order to the play of positive forms and negative space. Judd matched the length of each box to the interval between boxes on the opposite side of the sculpture. This progression continues so that in the center of the work the lengths of the boxes and intervals are exactly the same. But you don’t need to know that to appreciate the work – we feel or perceive its order before we know it rationally. The object may be very precise in its construction, but the experience it creates is something more contradictory and mysterious.