London

View of “Donald Judd,” 2012.

View of “Donald Judd,” 2012.

Donald Judd

View of “Donald Judd,” 2012.

Although works on paper were included in Donald Judd’s midcareer surveys at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968 and the Pasadena Art Museum in 1971, the artist’s drawings for various Wall Units, Floor Boxes, Stacks, and Progressions have remained largely under the radar for the four decades since then. With pencil or ink, Judd executed spare, lean schematics on paper of various sizes as preparation for his three-dimensional works. In terms of skill, these sheets occupy a middle ground that’s neither virtuosic nor amateurish. Their most idiosyncratic quality is that many were made on yellow architect’s paper.

Because this portion of Judd’s substantial corpus has, for the most part, been out of sight, out of mind, the mistaken impression has been that the Minimalist pioneer merely phoned his fabricators to order his metal structures and objects. “Working Papers: Donald Judd Drawings, 1963–93,” curated by Peter Ballantine, revealed that this was not the case at all. Moreover, the exhibition conveyed a picture of an artist who was not always as decisive and bold as he appeared to be. Among the thirty-three sketches and diagrams on view—all are illustrated in an exhibition catalogue—there’s one that’s peppered with question marks. A few depict pieces that were never realized or else were fabricated in a modified form.

Some aspects of Judd’s objects seem to have been more “specific” to him than others. Early on, he was particularly preoccupied with fine-tuning proportions and getting mathematical sequences just right. As late as 1986, he was arranging sequences of numbers in rows to figure out how to proceed. Then there are sheets that record the nature of works that had already been realized. They’re portraits, if you will. Regarding these, Judd wasn’t at all concerned with rendering how they would be experienced in person. Often, instead of depicting a work from the front, he drew three-quarter views. Similarly, the drawings portraying stacks are slightly awry: If these were portraits of people rather than metal boxes, one would say they were anatomically incorrect.

Quite different from Judd’s working papers—and displayed in a long, narrow, Plexiglas-topped case—were order sheets from the archives of New York–based Bernstein Brothers, the roofing, heating, and ventilation specialists who became the artist’s fabricators. The company’s records stole the show. Accompanying wonderfully precise descriptions of, say, ONE (1) “JUDD SCULPTURE” 100 3/4“ PROGRESSION CLEAR ANOD TUBE WITH GREEN (AEN) ANODIZED BOXES CRATING were dates, buyers, costs, measurements, and graphic sketches of fronts and sides as well as the braces on which such works were hung. Some sheets itemized the hours it took to fabricate a work as well as who worked on it. In 2012, who wouldn’t be intrigued by regarding a sheet stamped DEC 4 1964, with an order from Don Judd 53 East 19th St for four boxes 30” x 30“ x 30” costing $40 each?

This show covered, from soup to nuts, everything you ever wanted to know about realizing a work of art by Donald Judd. Bernstein Brothers’ itemized records, in particular, further allowed viewers to ponder how these fabricators were as painstaking in their efforts as marble carvers sculpting statues for, say, Neoclassicists were in their day and age.

Phyllis Tuchman