PRINT September 2022


Donald Judd assembling his work at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, 1966. Photo: Bob Adelman. © Bob Adelman Estate.


One of the first assignments Phil Leider gave me as an Artforum staff writer was the February 1966 Donald Judd show at Leo Castelli’s Seventy-Seventh Street gallery (a walk down memory lane!). It was my first encounter with Minimalism, and I was totally unprepared for it. I was also ignorant of the truculent embargo Judd had placed on the pictorial: “Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture,” he declared in “Specific Objects” (Arts Yearbook, 1965). And he added, “The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is on or inside of it.”

Judd remembered,

In work before 1946 the edges of the rectangle are a boundary. The end of the picture. The composition must react to the edges and the rectangle must be unified, but the shape of the rectangle is not stressed; the parts are more important, and the relationships of color and form occur among them. . . . Anything on a surface has space behind it. Two colors on the same surface almost always lie on different depths.

The brute presence of an object

gets rid of the problem of illusionism and of literal space, space in and around marks and colors—which is riddance of one of the salient and most objectionable relics of European art. The several limits of painting are no longer present. A work can be as powerful as it can be thought to be. Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.

In a conversation with Frank Stella and Bruce Glaser, Judd said, “The big problem is that anything that is not absolutely plain begins to have parts in some way. The thing is to be able to work and do different things and yet not break up the wholeness that a piece has. To me the piece with the brass and the five verticals is above all that shape.”

At Castelli’s in 1966, I was struck by the way Judd’s friezelike wall sculptures defied the possibility for the viewer to grasp them frontally, as a whole. The width of the serial appendages that hung from the horizontal bars varied progressively, like the transversals of a perspective diagram. For me, this fact folded the work into the Renaissance pictorial tradition. My review, “Allusion and Illusion in the Work of Donald Judd,” was generated by this observation.

“The fleeting view from the projecting figures back to their ground, as if to a secret source, evokes the Lacanian objet a, herald of the subject of castration, who in this case is engulfed by the very space Judd disdains and wants Minimalism’s success to cleanse.” —Rosalind E. Krauss

Many years passed; in 2020, the Judd retrospective opened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Its curator, Ann Temkin, quite oblivious of the Judd embargo, magnificently installed the show to allow the maximum impact of its pictorialism to dawn on the observer. In the second gallery was a brilliant stack piece in stainless steel and orange Plexiglas. The luminous horizontal Plexi panes of the bottoms of the stacked drawers emitted an intense aura of burnt umber that reflected onto the gallery wall as a glowing yellow-orange rectangle, against which the figure constellated by the continuously projecting steel blades stacked down the work’s surface hovered as a floating visual plane. Here, Judd contrived a brilliant pictorial oscillation of figure against ground, the very fundaments of Gestaltist figure-ground reversal—which the Gestaltists saw as the developing perceptual ability to snatch form from the surrounding “noise” of space at large. The pictorial figure-ground reversal was abundant in the show.

Judd’s famous plywood boxes, skewed as if in anamorphic perspective, align their implicit projecting facets as though in a continuous frontal plane, floating against the underlying wall of plywood seen through the open boxes.

The fleeting view from the projecting figures back to their ground, as if to a secret source, evokes the Lacanian objet a, herald of the subject of castration, who in this case is engulfed by the very space Judd disdains and wants Minimalism’s success to cleanse: “space in and around marks and colors—which is riddance of one of the salient and most objectionable relics of European art.”

Artforum’s sixty years correspond to my fifty years of thinking about Judd. Not continuously, only intermittently.

Rosalind E. Krauss is University Professor of art history at Columbia University.

 Donald Judd, untitled, 1973, plywood. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2020. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar. © Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


I have two xeroxed Cy Twombly images taped to one of my studio’s walls that I glance at most days. Palpable secrets revealed. Revelations that I can’t appropriate. They were there before and have been there through this strange, opaque pandemic/postpandemic period. Their rightful presence. Crayon drawings, late works. Both untitled. (From a Gagosian show in 2018: “In Beauty it is finished: Drawings 1951–2008.”) Work in his “irresponsibility to gravity” mode. Drawings (or are they paintings?), almost reckless, that look—feel—like they might be dying. A faultless collision of colors collapsing, falling and floating at the same time. That kind of beauty. Those questions. Insistently unsettled and therefore wildly alive, which is what life and the world feel like right now.

Ralph Lemon is a choreographer, writer, and visual artist.

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1990, acrylic, wax crayon, and pencil on handmade buff paper, 30 5⁄8 × 21 5⁄8". © Cy Twombly Foundation.


It was the mid-1990s. I had just tumbled out of a premed program and found myself fumbling to figure out what postmodern and Conceptual art was all about. I thought about studying architecture or possibly filmmaking but instead I enrolled in the art department at the University of California, Irvine, under the tutelage of Daniel Joseph Martinez and many other amazing mentors. (Here, I must mention Daniel’s 1993 Whitney Biennial piece as another work that had a tremendous impact on me.) I enrolled in Connie Samaras’s Creative Writing class—or was it called Writing for Artists? I can’t remember. We read Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993), and in one of the classroom discussions, Samaras mentioned Kindred (1979), an earlier novel by Butler. This piqued my curiosity, so I picked it up and started to read it in parallel, outside of the classroom. Both books left me spellbound, but Kindred captured me in a different way. I was fascinated by how Butler pierced history through her story of Dana, an LA writer who travels through time to save her enslaved ancestors in the antebellum South and in essence simultaneously saves her future, all while grappling with both the trauma of slavery and its historical erasure. Complex and gut-wrenching and touching.

Then, as if I had been transported into her world of time travel and fantasy, Butler herself appeared before my eyes, delivering an artist lecture from a stage just a few feet away. I didn’t remember seeing her on the visiting-artists list, and was floored to be in her presence. She was a light, and the stars continued to align that day. After her lecture, a few of us received a rare opportunity to hang and talk life with her. But that’s a story for another time.

“Then, as if I had been transported into her world of time travel and fantasy, Octavia E. Butler herself appeared before my eyes.”—Tuan Andrew Nguyen

It was not until recently that I realized how much Kindred had affected my thinking.

I was brought up in a household where rituals revolving around death and reincarnation saturated our understanding of the world, ideas that were mostly ridiculed in the Midwest, where I did much of my growing up. I made it a point very early on to stop telling friends about death anniversaries and things of that nature. In Kindred, I found parallels between the narrative framework that Butler had devised and my own family’s way of telling stories, which connected lives through multiple temporalities and various incarnations. Butler’s novel had strangely liberated me from linear thinking, freed me from feeling that I had to adhere to the straight timelines taught in history classes. It gave me courage to seek alternative pathways, different routes to other ways of knowing and thinking critically. It engendered in me the space to think through some of the projects I would embark on years later. I reread Kindred in 2019. It was as poignant then as it was in 1996.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen is an artist based in Hồ Chí Minh City, Việtnam.