Anne Wheeler on Donald Judd

“One thing I want is to be able to see what I’ve done,” Judd explained in a 1964 interview: “Art is something you look at…it’s nothing until it’s made visible.”1 Early in his career, for reasons of economy, drawing was often the only way Judd could realize his vision. Though he later employed delegated fabrication to this end, this did not diminish the importance of drawing to Judd’s artistic process. While many hands contributed to the fabrication of Donald Judd’s objects, his drawings were touched by only one hand: his own. As such, Judd’s drawings are the most immediate point of access to the artist and his developing ideas: the first iteration of each piece made visible, and the necessary conduit through which Judd’s thoughts became form in the hands of his fabricators. Judd’s drawings are also the physical manifestation of his practice: a documentary repository of his mornings spent alone in the studio planning and creating, observing and reflecting, revising and remaking–a catalogue Judd guarded closely and consulted often to push his art forward over time. Judd’s drawings are far from mere representations of his three-dimensional works. They are art works in their own right, representing the real work of the artist himself and demanding that the viewer work, too: look carefully, as Judd did, and these drawings will reveal something new.

Judd’s 1967 drawing, Untitled (Galvanized Iron Verticals Painted H-D H-F Blue), is exemplary in this sense. Graphite on paper torn from a spiral-bound sketchbook, lines hastily sketched then ruled over with a straightedge, dimensions noted, instructions for materials and color scribbled in the margin: this appears to be a fabrication plan for a well-known Judd object. However, the first object of this kind was executed three years prior to this drawing, and while two more objects would be constructed later that year, they were made from the specifications for the first model rather than from this drawing.2 The drawing, then, is neither the first iteration of an idea nor a plan for fabrication of a new piece, and its relation to the already-realized piece is more referential than representational, more interpretive than illustrative. With its notations and its forced perspective, the drawing reveals a side of the work as object that its fabrication could not; likewise, as a visual embodiment of his self-reflection, the drawing reveals a side of the artist’s work as practice that his verbal criticism could not quite reach. Asked about the object in multiple interviews, Judd referred to “the piece with the brass and the five verticals” as “above all that shape,” one with which he could “work and do different things and yet not break up the wholeness.”3 As the verticals “both support the brass and pend from it,” “caught there” in the whole rather than coming loose as independent parts, so does the drawing support the object. Judd’s drawings support his oeuvre in general: there could not be one without the others. The parts create the whole to enact Judd’s simple expression of complex thought.

  1. Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd: Interview by Bruce Glaser.” Battcock, Gregory, ed. Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology. New York: Dutton, 1968. 161-164. []
  2. Untitled, 1964; DSS 55: Brydon Smith, ed. Donald Judd: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Objects, and Wood Blocks, 1960-1974 [Exhibition: National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa: May 24-Jul. 6, 1975]. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1975. []
  3. Glaser, 155. []
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