New York

Donald Judd

Castelli Gallery

Two sculptures by Donald Judd at the Leo Castelli Gallery clarified for me some vague feelings of physical incompleteness and ideological limitation which his large Whitney retrospective last year had suggested. The work looked impressive, spare, and often extraordinarily lucid or elegant, but this with a very bounded sense accomplishment to my eye—as if many half-embodied or half-considered concepts were efficiently cloaked by the technologically clean-cut geometric boxes and fabricated modular units typical of Judd’s mature work. Although he has advocated the abandonment of composition in an attempt to rid his sculpture of all the intricacies of internal part-to-part relationships, the most striking piece in the current show is in a special sense detailed, and interesting primarily for the illusioned ambiguities which the two incorporated materials (anodized aluminum and midnight blue plexiglass) create. A rectangular, open-ended shell of silvery threaded aluminum is tautly lined with opaque glossy dark blue plexiglass—a sleek, lean sleeve whose inner surfaces completely dissolve the sense of sharp edge, specific scale (about 5 feet high and 8 feet long), angle, or clarified space which the outer encasing is obviously meant to identify and establish with great certainty. The lighting and area of the room around the piece are reflected within the plexiglass, so that depth, too, becomes one of the encompassed features and dimensions. The absorbing and refracting darkness of this plastic creates a dense volumetric core and encourages the sense of an enveloping thickness, which in actuality the three-quarter inch walls of the sculpture do not possess. Inside this really extremely attractive structure a kind of space-less space is projected, at once definitely present, then dissolved into infinity, denying the solidity and integrity of its outer sheathing. This disembodied aspect of the work is what also obtains from the other piece exhibited.

Thirty-nine stacked square units, each ten feet long, are wedged together across one gallery room, meeting three of the walls, filling up half its height and about two-thirds of its breadth. The cumulative effect of these long galvanized iron chutes is as ambiguous as the plexiglass and aluminum piece, in that the overall grid-faced density, or the space filling bulk and presence, is equivocated and even cancelled out by the perforated thinness and sheen of the metal walls and spatial slots. As straightforward and no-nonsense as the structure appears, it seems symptomatic of the often vacantly inflated forms of Judd’s work: forms that may not ultimately uphold (or may fail to emphatically support) the concepts they are meant to demonstrate and manifest physically. Although I find Judd’s work frequently tough and beautifully easy to take in all at once, the particular kind of beauty—coolly sensuous, at times illusory—is something that would probably most often violate or vitiate the clearest formal resolutions which the artist has otherwise stated and accomplished. Though it has the look of self-assurance, that the visual effect and affect should so often diverge from the physical means and materials (so that they are not congruent to the point of neutralizing each other) convinces me that in an important sense the work has fallen short of its own radical intentions and implications.

Emily Wasserman