New York's Mnuchin Gallery today opens the first-ever exhibition devoted exclusively to artist Donald Judd’s Stacks. Featured are ten wall-mounted stacks of rectangular metal and Plexiglas units, both large and small, dating from 1968 to 1990. Evocative of rungs on a ladder, skyscrapers, or piano keys, these elegant explorations of volume, space, and color serve as the minimalist master’s best-known legacy.
In vibrant amber and candy red, some pieces cast gem-toned shadows in certain lighting. The units were made in a factory, not by the artist himself, as Judd wanted them to look industrially manufactured. Sukanya Rajaratnam, a partner at the Mnuchin Gallery, tells Co.Design, "Mnuchin Gallery, given its prewar townhouse setting, allowed us to present the works in very unexpected ways—in a once-domestic space replete with moldings, grand staircases and French windows. This space animates the work and renders them almost human. It dispels the notion that Minimalism is tough to live with." Curators took great pains to hang the show so that the stacks would be in conversation with one another, using the space's ample natural light to create interesting shadows. "Seeing the face-off between them is spectacular," says Rajaratnam.
Despite being considered the leading artist of the minimalist movement, Judd, who worked at the intersection of art, architecture, and design, eschewed the label. When the minimalist aesthetic first emerged in the 1960s, some critics had snarkier names for it: "ABC," "Boring," or "No-Art Nihilism," for example.
Initially, the lack of clear meaning in Judd's chunks of Plexiglas stumped and frustrated many viewers. But it didn’t prevent hundreds of books from being written about the philosophy of the work, including the artist’s own "Specific Objects" in 1964. "Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface," he wrote.
"Judd’s ideas about sculpture existing in our own, real space, and his interest in highlighting the shifting relationship between viewer, artwork, and architecture, have been hugely influential," says Rajaratnam. "His insistence on removing the mark of the artist’s hand from an artwork, and his belief that an artist could conceive of a form then have it materially executed by professional fabricators, is also a concept so widely accepted now that one forgets that in 1965, it was virtually unheard of."
After Judd’s death in 1994, devotees made bumper stickers printed with "WWDJD? (What would Donald Judd do?)" and plastered them all over the town of Marfa, Texas, where their messiah lived and worked. Judd's giant boxy sculptures bask in the desert there like stripped-down thoroughly modern cathedrals, and have helped turn the town into a top destination for art tourism. Fans are sure to flock to New York’s Upper East Side for the Mnuchin Gallery’s new exhibition.
The show coincides with the recent opening of Judd’s home and studio on 101 Spring Street after a $23 million renovation.
Stacks is on view through December 7, 2013.