PRINT Summer 1971

An Interview with Don Judd

“I Am Interested In Static Visual Art And Hate Imitation Of Movement.”

JOHN COPLANS: On what basis did you formulate your early work?

DON JUDD: Two things: the public situation and my own situation. Through most of the ’50s the dominant style was very loose painting—it was all Abstract Expressionist painting, so there was almost no idea for art that wasn’t very sloshy and organic. The idea of geometric painting was a very rare thing, so the few people who worked that way weren’t the ones that were most regarded, like Barnett Newman or Ad Reinhardt. On my side the person that impressed me most was Jackson Pollock, and though I never really got close to working like Pollock, I was far from being interested in the geometric artists and very suspicious, very uninterested and very wary of the style. I always liked Mondrian, and I liked Frank Stella’s black paintings when I saw them. But, on the whole, I disliked the quality of geometric art. I guess I didn’t understand Newman’s work until later. Ken Noland’s circles were geometric in a way, even though some of them were sloshy. But with geometry, one important idea was available: it could be used in a non-Neo-Plastic way, an impure way, without the purity that geometric art seemed to have. Mondrian, though really great, is too ideal and clean. In another way, Reinhardt is too. That was not a believable quality for me. Stella’s painting had a possibility that became evident of an impure geometric art. And that’s the only connection I had to Stella’s work: his black paintings were a suggestion of new possibilities with geometry.

It seems that in your early paintings you were quite free from any rigid ideas about the use of materials, especially in the thickness of the skin of paint you used.

Yes, I was trying to make the surface non-spatial and flat. It has to do with trying to make it just surface, without any idea of purity of materials, color, or any restrictive notion such as using three colors.

What about your adoption of symmetry in the early Sixties?

I know it was a move lots of people made to get away from the relational aspects of European painting—especially the idea of balancing forms—but at the time it was pretty scarce, really. There was very little plain symmetry; there was Noland’s painting, or Johns’s targets, but Johns usually had something at the top anyway.

Were you at all interested in the assemblage aspects of materials?

No, just the idea that there was complete freedom in the use of materials but not in a rational, technological or scientific way. Yes, that you could use anything you wanted to. I didn’t see any reason for not using a particular material, but I was pretty uninterested in anything that actually existed. I think Johns is a good artist, but I was not as crazy about him as a lot of people were. I was interested in some of his flatter surfaces—the texture might have a little bit to do with that—but from the beginning I was very critical of all that brushwork. I got to like it better, but for quite a while I thought it was pretty backward stuff compared to Pollock—I still do, some.

There is a progressive development from a flat, painterly surface to relief.

Two things were going on in the painting: some of the earlier ones were organic and had curved lines; secondly, they were illusionistic to some extent, and I very steadily got tired of both things and tried to get rid of spatial illusionism, but I couldn’t get rid of it. So even in a painting like the red one with the gray stripes, painted in 1961, which is just all surface, there is still a spatial play around the lines. (Fig. 1)

By “spatial play” I suppose you mean figure/ground interrelationships, etc.

Yes. And one also had the problem that there were at least two things in the painting: the rectangle itself and the thing (image) in the rectangle, which is true even in Newman. You couldn’t get around that. The only paintings that didn’t have that kind of problem were Yves Klein’s—the blue paintings. But for some reason I just didn’t want to do monochrome paintings.

So you moved progressively from painterly low reliefs into more dimensional work?

Yes, one of the first three-dimensional ones started off as a piece of canvas from a failed painting that I tried to turn up, but I couldn’t make the canvas turn up evenly. So after a while it occurred to me to change the material and use something that would curve naturally. I threw out the piece of canvas and replaced it with galvanized iron. The relief is galvanized iron and painted plywood. It’s the first really three-dimensional relief. The one with the pipe is 1962. I went from low to high relief and then to free-standing works. (Fig. 2,3)

What was the impulse to move from the wall to fully three-dimensional floor pieces?

First, I did the pipe relief and kept it on the floor. It was a big thing when sitting on the floor. I left it on the floor, and that didn’t seem to bother it much. It was meant to go on the wall, but it looked all right on the floor. And then the whole situation of the wall was tiresome, but I was also tired of low relief. It seemed a method that would solve a lot of problems, and it did to some extent, but it still shared the nature of painting in that low relief is rectangular and goes back against the wall. And I didn’t want it to sit back against the wall. A piece that was completely three-dimensional was a big event for me.

All your materials of this kind were just what you could find lying around?

Yes. A lot of it was primarily because it was cheap, and also I didn’t care about its being precise. The piece with the horizontal pipe is made out of printing material skids, salvaged wood. It was pretty roughly made because I didn’t care about it. (Fig. 4)

Does it have a bottom?

No, it’s open at top and bottom.

You seem to have broken the frontality in the next piece.

Yes, the pipe piece has two sides instead of four sides. The back is nice, too. The next three dimensional piece is a right-angled floor piece with a bent pipe. The wood was purchased for this. The bent and welded pipe was found. (Fig. 5)

It’s very frontal.

No, it’s a regular three-dimensional piece. The earlier pipe piece is decidedly more front and back. The sides don’t amount to too much. This one really works; it’s very definitely four-sided and opened up. It’s a normal three-dimensional piece. The space is uncontained, and the construction and dimension are a function of the pipe. The arms of the pipe are of a different size; that’s why it’s not symmetrical.

It’s a big shift from symmetry to asymmetry, which you didn’t maintain very much, did you?

Basically, I don’t have anything against asymmetry—it’s composition that I don’t want. Neutral, plain asymmetry is all right. The bent-pipe piece is asymmetrical. The asymmetrical disposition is determined by the pipe, which I found that way, so that the pipe is a given thing. This gets around why one arm should be different from the other. Otherwise, it would get into composing, and it doesn’t really look that way. I think you realize that the pipe has determined the shape of the piece. In the red box I did a great deal of juggling to make it uncomposed. I spent a lot of time determining where the trough should be on top of the box, having to do with it not being in any particular or obvious spot. It couldn’t occur across one of the quarters; it couldn’t appear to occur at some definite, measured spot. The wall reliefs and the free-standing pieces occurred right together. I didn’t really get fed up with reliefs until the time of the Green Gallery show, or just before it. (Fig. 6)

Your material and techniques began to improve.

Yes, I got better and more interested in making the pieces. In the early ones I didn’t really care if the wood was sloppy or bad. And I still don’t care the way some people care.

Is there a reason for that?

Because precision doesn’t have that much to do with it. I want my work well-made but I don’t necessarily want it made with a great deal of precision.

You mean industrial precision?

Yes, a certain amount of variation doesn’t detract from them.

Is the large relief pegboard? (Fig. 7)

No. I hand drilled 900 odd holes.

What was the idea of piercing the surface like that with small holes?

To make it more definite.

In what way?

Just the surface. Without the holes the metallic finish would be too illusionistic, too soft. It’s to make a firmer surface. The edges are metal painted black.

What about the long rectilinear one with holes at either end? (Fig. 8)

It’s dated 1963, is a big shift, and though very small, it’s important. It’s 5 by 32 by 5 inches, painted wood and an aluminum tube. At the time of the Green Gallery show in 1963, or just before, I finished the big relief of half-inch by three-inch strips with the metal top and bottom. After that I was tired of the whole relief idea against the wall and the rectilinear format, a painterly format. That situation really seemed to be dead. At first it was just a casual thing. I had gotten the tube to figure out what I could do with it, but when I made the pipe and thought about it for a couple of months, it seemed to avoid all those things I didn’t like. It wasn’t rectangular, it wasn’t back against the wall which was the main point because it was long and because of its projection. It does not look like the extension of a canvas any more. And it comes out as far as the height of the front. The narrowness and horizontality keep it away from the whole idea of painting. It is a box with an articulated interior, more than anything else. The horizontality and the projection are important. Afterwards it occurred to me that the idea would work if the pieces were projected, and that the painting situation would be completely avoided if they projected more than they were wide, top to bottom.

The progressions, stacks and wall boxes develop from it?

Right, because of the projection. Also the idea of cantilevering: it is like a form cantilevered off the wall, as against a painting that clings to the wall. One is aware of the weight of the pieces thrust forward and the fact they’re being cantilevered off the wall.

The ladder piece seems to be a very important piece. (Fig. 9)

Yes, it’s the first big piece. It’s also the first free, open, dimensional sculpture. It has the right angle and all those things too, but you can see through it. It’s painted red and purple.

You seem to have a predisposition toward red.

I like the color and I like the quality of cadmium red light. And then, also, I thought for a color it had the right value for a three-dimensional object. If you paint something black or any dark color, you can't tell what its edges are like. If you paint it white, it seems small and purist. And the red, other than a gray of that value, seems to be the only color that really makes an object sharp and defines its contours and angles.

Red also has a saturated quality that seems very strong in all your work.

I didn’t want any bland colors. I would be more interested in them now, but at the time I really hated them. At the same time that I was interested in developing plain surfaces, I was also interested in developing colors in a strong way.

Rather than being ambiguous, they were as clear as they could be.

Yes, there is a certain range. A dark chartreuse in which I did one piece has about the same value. I never used it, but I thought cerulean blue would do, too. From the point of view of light, these colors define the angles very well. If you went down to cadmium red, medium or deep, the form would be fuzzy so the only point about the color was its capacity to define the form with clarity.

The Green Gallery show was in 1963. By this time the question of sculpture without a base was central to your work. Did you now consider yourself a sculptor?

I had always considered my work another activity of some kind. I was surprised, when I made those first two free-standing pieces, to have something set out into the middle of the room. It puzzled me. On the one hand, I didn’t quite know what to make of it, and on the other, they suddenly seemed to have an enormous number of possibilities. It looked at that point, and from then on, as though I could do anything. Anyway, I certainly didn’t think I was making sculpture. I liked Mark di Suvero and David Smith, but I didn’t think what they did had much to do with me.

What about Anthony Caro’s work?

He didn’t show in New York until 1964, and his work looked as if he were one of di Suvero’s followers.

About this time you wrote the “Specific Object” article.

Yes, but it was published much later than it was written about a year later.

Wasn’t that a declaration of your situation?

I don’t know. They just gave me a job of reporting. People talk about it being about my work, a manifesto and things like that; but really, I was earning a living as a writer, and it’s a report on three-dimensional art.

Who else, apart from Dan Flavin, was around? What was Robert Morris doing at this time?

It was a little while before I saw anything of Morris’s, but Flavin was the only artist I knew who I thought was trying to do something out of the way. It’s surprising, but there wasn’t much around. There were Flavin’s boxes and nothing else for a couple of years.

There’s a surprising connection between some of Flavin’s early work (the colored boxes) and yours.

I knew him before he did the green box. I considered him the only interesting new artist.

Did Stella know you and your work at the time?

Yes, he was interested.

Did you discuss your sculpture with him?

Not too much.

The shapes in the Green Gallery show were more or less simple, geometric ones, often with diagonals.

I didn’t want to make just lumps. I didn’t want to make just a red box. That seemed too easy and pointless. I just didn’t want to follow Yves Klein and make monochrome paintings.

I assume in not wanting to make boxes you steered clear of anything mysterious; all your sculpture was open to the eye and plain. I mean in the same way you were trying to get rid of illusionism, you were also trying to get rid of any anthropomorphism or Surrealism.

Yes, I hate all that stuff. Back to the beginning: there was hardly anyone around at the time I did my first work, but not much later, in the Primary Structure show, there were dozens of people.

Do we need to go into Primary Structures at all?

I think it’s a stupid name and was a stupid show. When I did my pieces I finally felt I was doing something on my own and suddenly, a few years later, similar things were occurring here and there. On the other hand, I figured it would all pass, which it did.

I think it was surprising, however, to see so much sculpture without a base suddenly appearing on the scene.

That was almost completely my idea. There are two things, both a little remote, that have anything to do with it: di Suvero’s pieces tended—because of his studio, probably—to be rather low, six or seven feet high, with posts standing on the floor. They didn’t stand on a base. John Chamberlain, I suppose, was the other. Also Chamberlain’s use of volume was important to me.

But as far as I remember he never made a specific point of having sculpture directly on the floor?

True, the ones that really sat on the floor were later on. So it’s kind of remote, but there is that idea in di Suvero. And then the other thing was that Lucas Samaras did a 4 by 4 foot piece in sculpmetal, I think, and it was right down on the floor. It was more like a painting when it was put on the floor because it was very flat. A little like Carl Andre’s pieces, but it had a mound in the middle. I don’t remember it too well. Andre was doing carved vertical pieces. I like Andre’s work but I don’t like being put in the same time as him. The absence of a base, as far as I knew, was completely my idea. It wasn’t like Flavin, who was a contemporary, and it’s not as if Andre took place in the development of the idea.

There seems to be a definite drive in your work to purge it of all iconic qualities, especially in the color.

I wanted to get rid of all those extraneous meanings—connections to things that didn’t mean anything to the art.

What do you consider art is about then?

About what I know. The iconic quality by definition refers to other things.

What about the question of scale and size?

That was very important to me in all the earlier and later paintings which had to do with that. In the paintings I learned to use scale, size, direct color and those things. As far as scale and size go, I don’t think there’s anything in my work that doesn’t occur in common, or that isn’t like most good New York art. I think my use of scale and size isn’t that much different from Stella’s, or Newman’s and so forth. I think it’s a general broad scale that I thought was very good and in which I worked that I adopted from the situation.

What determined your pieces?

It had to be a broad, single thing. I have a real hatred of small scale and small units. Not size, but small scale. As Newman remarked: a small work needn’t necessarily be small in scale. I don’t think I’ve contributed anything new in the way of scale. Broad scale is a pretty common thing in New York. I don’t think there is a substantial difference between Ellsworth Kelly, Stella, Newman, di Suvero, Chamberlain and whoever. A thing that is very different is Larry Bell’s work, which is completely outside of broad scale.

What about the use of polychrome?

Well, that was one of those big fake challenges. Every few years somebody would come along and talk about when is somebody going to do polychrome sculpture. So in a way it’s a bit of a cliché. It was new in actuality, but I didn’t make so much of it—I sort of took it for granted.

In the Green Gallery show you used color to neutralize the origins of the material.

You knew it was wood. The early ones were rough because I just didn’t care. In the later works the color is different. I’m not saying the color isn’t very important. Some things seem new to me. I took the color for granted because, for one thing, my paintings were colored; so obviously I wasn’t going to go and do uncolored three-dimensional things.

Then after the Green Gallery show you began to get the idea of working in metal?

Yes, but not right after. The Green Gallery show was from December, 1963, to January, 1964, or so. The first metal piece, I guess, was done in something like April, 1963. I went to Bernstein’s for the relief with one thousand holes in it. That’s the first time I went there, but Bernstein said it would cost too much to do. There was no way to do it other than for me to drill it by hand because it was cheaper. That was before the Green Gallery show, and that’s a metal piece. Then, I think in the spring of 1964, I took the wooden box with the trough in it the one that projected from the wall to Bernstein to have it covered in galvanized iron. Anyway, that piece even though it has wood underneath which I had made was ostensibly made of metal. Bernstein, at the time, was a little crude and not used to my ideas, and the wood construction made it difficult to do it too carefully. They had to work against the wood. In a few months I had it made over again in metal. The first big piece Bernstein made must have been sometime before the Tibor de Nagy show in 1964. They made the oval piece. It’s not too well-made because they didn’t realize how I wanted it. Bernstein made it as he would have made a ventilating duct. The pieces for the São Paulo Biennial are the next lot, summer of 1965.

Why the switch to metal?

I learned to do a better job at carpentry, but the main thing was that the wood was a little bit absorbent, the way canvas is. It wasn’t a hard enough surface. It also had to be a thick surface, and I wanted a thinner, more shell-like surface, so that the volume inside would be clear. Halfinch plywood is a pretty indefinite material; it could be any thickness once the piece is built. Also I wanted to get out of painting pieces.

You wanted to use materials that had self-colored surfaces?

Yes, but the painting was a problem. The reason for using galvanized iron was that it didn’t have to be painted. That first oval piece was painted red. I’m still painting pieces because I can’t find enough of a range of color in the materials. I consider everything to be color, including gray, so that business of gray not being a color that Morris talks about is nonsense. But I don’t want to use gray all the time, which is the color of most metals. The anodizing is an improvement because it colors the metal, so that’s some possibility. The use of metal is just to reduce the number of ambiguous elements in the pieces, to define them more rigorously. The first floor pieces to follow the Green Gallery show are the plexiglass boxes with metal ends. They begin in 1964.

So you added plexiglass to metal?

Yes, though I first used plexiglass in the wooden piece with a diagonal step in the Green Gallery exhibition.

Why the use of the plexiglass?

It has a hard, single surface and the color is embedded in the material. In some cases it also gives access to the interior—to a varying degree, however.

With the wall pieces I imagine the use of the plexiglass is important because the observer can see through the piece.

The use of plexiglass exposes the interior, so the volume is opened up. In the large piece owned by Pasadena, the viewer has a clear idea of the volume because he knows how thick the walls are, even though it can’t be seen into. It’s fairly logical to open it up so the interior can be viewed. It makes it less mysterious, less ambiguous. I’m also interested in what might be called blank areas, or just plain areas, and what is seen obliquely, like the stack with the plexiglass top and bottom. When viewed frontally the sides are seen obliquely, so the color and the plane and the face are somewhat obscure compared to the front. It’s the other way around when seeing the side. In most of my pieces there are no fronts or sides it depends on the viewing position of the observer. It’s obvious that the floor pieces have no front.

The horizontal wall boxes don’t seem to be explored in their variations as much as the stacks.

It has a lot to do with money. There has been quite a demand for the stacks and next to none for the four or six boxes in a row. Along with that, the six boxes in a row are bigger and consequently cost more than the stacks to make.

The big and small stacks spread from floor to ceiling, the large, nine inches from the floor and ceiling and the small, six inches.

Yes, there is the premise that the piece fits into the space.

Was it at all important to you the way the stacks visually bite into the wall surface?

No, the wall goes through the piece and that’s all.

But it opens the sculpture.

Yes, but that has to do with verticality. It’s like one of the things I said before: I like David Smith’s work mostly, but I dislike all vertical gestural sculpture. One reason I like di Suvero’s sculpture is that it isn’t so gestural. Somehow the stack going from floor to ceiling and the fact that it’s not a column and not resting on its base, saves it from that figurative business.

All your pieces are pretty light in weight.

Yes, they’re light pieces. For the most part I’ve always been interested in making light pieces. I dislike sculptural bulk, weight and massiveness. The big box shown at the Metropolitan Museum weighs four thousand pounds, but it doesn’t look heavy even though it’s a great big tube covering an incredible volume of space.

I understand the stacks exist in the following variations: galvanized iron, copper and stainless steel, and there soon will be one of brass. Then there are the various stacks of different-colored plexiglass with each type of metal.

Yes, first you have the solids, then plexiglass top and bottom, and finally the wrap-around plexiglass sides.

Do you work in editions in the stacks? Are there more than one of some combination of material?

No, they are all unique. Again, it’s a question of money. If I had had more money, a lot of possibilities would have gotten done at one shot. That’s somewhat true of the stacks. The ones of galvanized iron were made first because they were the cheapest to make. On the other hand, it’s five years or more since I made the first stacks, and in that time many more ideas have occurred, so I probably couldn’t have made them all at once. So there is the development in the materials to allow for a wider range of plastic in different colors some transparent, translucent or opaque. I didn’t think, at first, of opening them from top to bottom. That only came later. And I didn’t think of the wraparound until after that.

You never painted any of the stacks?

I painted one which is the beginning of the wraparound idea. Leo Castelli had it in his Tenth Anniversary show. It’s galvanized iron with painted green sides. It’s painted in the same way as the wrap-around but the plexiglass seemed to be an improvement on painting.

What about the question of editions as far as your work is concerned?

Not much is in editions. The small painted and unpainted galvanized round-fronted and square-fronted progressions are in editions of three. I’m interested in ideas I can work with, and the stack proved to have a lot of possibilities. In a way, when one gets one part clear, it gives more leeway on the other things, because it is very hard to deal with all things at once. So once I thought of the idea of the stack, or a certain scheme, and once I see a couple and spend time with them, further ideas occur.

Why do you make the small progressions in editions of three?

It’s just a question of money. People seem to pay just as much money for small things made in editions as for unique ones. And without money I can’t make more sculpture that’s all. The stacks could have been done the same way, but as things developed the stacks turned out to be unique. Also, I don’t sell as many stacks as progressions.

Important to your work after the Green Gallery show in 1963 is the idea of having your sculpture fabricated, of not having to make them by hand yourself.

The paintings were handmade, but none of the three-dimensional work is meant to look handmade, including the wooden ones which I made in as matter-of-fact a way as I could. Wood being what it is tends to look more manipulated than metal. I kept down the handicraft aspect. Other artists play it up.

You did gain a great freedom, though, from being able to send your work out to be made.

I guess so, but I don’t make a great thing of technology and all that. In the first place, I use an old-fashioned technique basically a late 19th-century metal-working technique. I don’t romanticize technology like Robert Smithson and others. I think generally you are forced into more modern technologies, but the technology is merely to suit one’s purpose. It’s not something mysterious or something that sanctions the work.

Do the progressions come after the stacks?

No, the progressions sort of come altogether. They and the stacks originate from that one wood piece with the two holes in either end. In fact, because of the wooden piece, the progressions slightly precede the stacks. True, with the wood piece I started to think about equalizing the projection and the height, but the idea of the progression occurs in the red wooden box with the semicircles cut out of the divisions.

Were the interior divisions based upon the idea of a mathematical progression?

Yes, the first real wooden progression was done from the cut semicircles left over from that box. It’s decidedly a progression with half an inch being added each time.

Then you seem to have done some plain, round-nosed non-progressions.

Yes, but you’re going too fast. The small one with the aluminum tube was in the Green Gallery show. It had an aluminum tube and a wooden structure. That was 1963. Then in spring of 1964 I did the one with the trough that Stella owns. That box really projects and is the beginning of the idea for the stacks. (Fig. 14)

It’s cantilevered out from the wall?

Right. The first one done prior to Pasadena’s boxes is a combination of two things. It’s got the horizontal element the bar and it has boxes that project as much as they are high 30 inches. After that, I did the one Stella owns and another one or two, then I ordered the plain round-sided and round-fronted single boxes all at once. I don’t know whether I ordered the metal stack or not. I think the metal stack was a little bit later. I think the single small box preceded the big stacks. So at São Paulo in 1965 there was the long progression and the smaller Pasadena-type boxes. The stack had just been finished and wasn’t in the show. It must have been made in the first half of 1965.

What about the cantilevering of the stacks?

I think it’s pretty much just a practical matter.

Then why didn’t you project them more? What determined the amount of projection?

I didn’t want to make too much of the cantilevering it’s a way of getting them in a row up the wall. They couldn’t come out too far in relationship to the width, and I didn’t want any kind of engineering problem. The projection was a very precise relationship to the width of the piece. The first stack was a 30-inch projection as against 40 inches wide. I changed the next one to 31 inches by 40 inches. I don’t like any dramatic quality or incident or anything archaic. The boxes just hang on the wall in a practical manner.

And the progressions?

There are two kinds of progressions. In the first, the spaces or intervals are equal to the solids. I’m not doctrinaire about symmetry, so when the whole idea of the progressions developed, I saw a way of having asymmetrical pieces that didn’t involve composition.

Would you define composition?

Typical part-by-part play, as in David Smith, or in all earlier painting and art, or European art.

You mean to take variously weighted parts to make them visually balance?

Yes, Mondrian is typical. The idea of taking some little part down here to adjust it to balance some big part up there.

O.K., but you also compose.

Yes, but I wouldn’t want to call it that. I mean I’m working with the form. I know I’m doing something with the form, but I wouldn’t call it composition because I hate the term.

You mean that all your ordering of form is arrived at or deduced as a whole in advance?

Yes, that’s what I was going to tell you. You see, the thing about my work is that it is given. Just as you take a stack or row of boxes, it’s a row. Everybody knows about rows, so it’s given in advance. Now, it’s also given if it’s a fairly simple progression, because everybody knows right off the spaces are given by the mathematics. In one of the progressions I used the Fibonacci series. In another I used the kind of inverse natural number series: one, minus a half, plus a third, a fourth, a fifth, etc. No one other than a mathematician is going to know what that series really is. You don’t walk up to it and understand how it is working, but I think you do understand that there is a scheme there, and that it doesn’t look as if it is just done part by part visually. So it’s not conceived part by part, it’s done in one shot. The progressions made it possible to use an asymmetrical arrangement, yet to have some sort of order not involved in composition. The point is that the series doesn’t mean anything to me as mathematics, nor does it have anything to do with the nature of the world. The progressions consist of several variations round-nosed, square-nosed and those with a tube and boxes underneath. There are also the progressions that have no tube and the big progressions that have a tube. (Fig.10,11)

Why were the boxes at the bottom and not the top?

It would have turned the top into teeth and made the bar look like a base. In the piece in Robert Rowan’s collection and in Pasadena’s there is a certain equivalence between what is supported and what is hanging. I fiddled with Rowan’s for a long time so that the verticals wouldn’t appear to be hanging. They are attached to it and support it, but I didn’t want them to look as if they were hanging. (Fig. 12)

You seem to have some difficulty in the stacks and the progressions with the amount of shadow cast.

It has to do with the fact that museum lighting is pretty bad. The Whitney show was especially bad because of the spotlights. All my pieces are meant to be seen in even or natural light. The shadows are unimportant, they are just a by-product.

What about the horizontal wall pieces?

Some of them go to the side walls, and the interval between the walls and the boxes is identical. So they are related to the architecture, like the stacks, but horizontally instead of vertically. The height of the boxes from the ground is also critical. The viewer is meant to see a little of the tops of the boxes, but the ceiling height doesn’t matter. They should be hung at either 62 or 63 inches. The choice of that height is meant to avoid flattening the boxes when they are on the wall. If the viewer can see a little of the top plane it’s going to keep them three-dimensional.

And the floor boxes?

The floor boxes obviously come from the Green Gallery show. They are even the same size. If they were any larger they would have been too gross or monumental. They have to look static, without movement. I am interested in static visual art and hate imitation of movement. The floor boxes with plastic sides and top started out in a practical way. I wanted them to be portable, and shippable—a knockdown piece. Thus they are designed to be taken apart. The stacks didn’t start out that way. The first boxes incorporating plexiglass are a little fancy technically, and require four tension wires to hold them together. The pebbled finish in the plexiglass is because I didn’t want the interior to be seen into at that time. I wanted the finish translucent; however, you can see the struts inside a little bit. Sometime later I had the idea of the clear boxes. None of the plexiglass boxes have a bottom, so in the clear ones the floor can be seen through the box. This opens the box up. The whole scheme has to do with defined ends and open body; this has been a sort of steady idea. Once I got the design of the wires better I was able to make the boxes of transparent plexiglass.

What about the boxes with a recessed top?

I made a chartreuse wooden box with a trough that was a little larger than the red box. I got tired of the trough or something that just cut across the top like a trough or a cut, and I wanted to do something more with the top, but with a single box. I thought it was too much like putting an element in it to keep cutting it, so I made a hot rolled steel box and painted it. (Fig. 13)

What do you think the effect of lipping or recessing the box is?

The surface is pushed back. It occurred to me if you took one of the sides and pushed it in, it would open the top surface up. I was always interested in edges and flanges. I was also interested in a certain quality of thinness and edgeness in the paintings. It defines what the boxes are made of by showing the thickness of the sheet metal, and thus becomes less arbitrary, more rigorous, with a more precise knowledge of the thickness of the material. So it shows, or makes, or emphasizes, the edge more clearly. One thing I liked about the red box when I originally made it was that now I had a broad shape with several edges, which I couldn’t get in a painting. There are also plexiglass boxes with stainless steel tubes through the center. They are without frontality and have an axis running in two directions. Another kind of tube is the double-walled box. You get two different types of space—the compressed space formed by the two walls and the open tubular space.

Some of the boxes have the insides lined with color.

The box with the plexiglass inside is an attempt to make a definite second surface. The inside is radically different from the outside. While the outside is definite and rigorous, the inside is indefinite. The interior appears to be larger than the exterior. The plastic is very slippery in look. There is one thing I know how to do very well and that is to produce a plain, austere piece. It’s a quality that I like, and I get very skeptical about it. But I like to try other things to see what happens to the shape and surface. Also, I like to try different colors on the same form by using different materials. Brass, for example, is very yellow. I have very ambivalent feelings about plexiglass and don’t like it too much as a material. In part it’s a sort of slippery and slightly disagreeable material.

Don’t you think that your color on the recent progressions is pretty opulent?

Yes, it’s a pretty strange thing. I never use more than two colors on the progressions, and they are very often just plain aluminum and one color. One thing I have never liked is dividing a single surface with a color; color is always identical with a single surface. The reason I have two colors in the progressions is obviously that the tubes and the boxes are two different things.

What about the environmental quality of the honeycomb and the galvanized sheet piece?

I still intend to do discrete pieces, but I get a little tired of them. My work goes back and forth. I got a little tired of big pieces that just sit there in an indefinite space, so I wanted to do something that dealt more with the space of the room. I don't know about its being environmental—it is just a piece that does something with the space of the room.

The 1966 piece that seems like a wedge on the floor is very anomalous. (Fig. 15)

The pierced metal has to do with opening up the surface like the plexiglass. Obviously, by piercing it one can see into it. The wedge relates to a parallelogram, but it’s made to be a very low piece.

It’s the lowest piece you have ever made?

Yes. It’s only eight inches high, and that height is very important. I thought if it was too flat, it would just lie down on the floor, which is the same objection I have to painting.

Sculpture seems to have less attention than painting.

Obviously paintings are easier to handle, to buy and put in people’s houses, etc. Also, since painting has been the medium in which most of the best work and innovation has been done, it has more prestige. I think a lot of people still believe that painting is the main thing, so it’s easier to sell.

In your more recent pieces you have enhanced the scale. Is this as a result of better access to technology and money?

Yes. I think about what I can actually do, which has been true all along, ever since money and labor got into it. The plywood pieces took so long to make. I don’t have too great a sense of progress of change, either. I like to work back and forth. There seems to be a lot more variety in my work than is casually apparent.