DONALD JUDD (1928-1994)

   Date of Birth: June 3, 1928

Place of Birth: Excelsior Springs, United States of America

Date of Death: February 12, 1994

Place of Death: New York, United States of America

Occupation: Sculpture

Movement: Minimalism

Education: Columbia University School of General Studies; Art Students League of New York

Nationality: American

Donald Judd was an American theoretician and conceptual artist, best known for his contribution to the Minimalist movement. He pioneered the idea that any object of art could exist purely within its physical environment, outside of the artist’s referential and emotional sphere.

Early Life and Education

Judd was born in the summer of 1928 in Excelsior Springs. He was the son of Western Union executive Roy Clarence and his wife Effie Cowsert. As his father travelled extensively, he spent a large part of his childhood at his grandparent’s home in Missouri. His family later settled in New Jersey in the mid-1930s. In 1948, Judd’s enrollment and studies at the College of William and Mary was interrupted by the outbreak of the Korean War. He served in the United States Army for the entire conflict before returning to New York. Here, he studied at the Art Students

League and then, Columbia University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Philosophy in 1953. Having spent a substantial amount of time touring the numerous galleries and museums in New York, he developed an interest in art – specifically history and theory – and pursued a Master’s Degree under the guidance of the intellectuals Meyer Schapiro and Rudolf Wittkower.

A Living in Art

Having experimented a little with painting, Judd turned his focus towards woodcuts in the late 1940s – a move that enabled him to abandon figuration completely in favor of abstraction. This gradually led him to shift to three-dimensional forms by the early 1960s. “Specific Objects,” published in 1964, read like a manifesto pioneering the use of non-traditional materials to create art divorced from the flat picture plane; art that addressed the space in which it existed. From the late 1950s to 1965, Judd’s essays and critiques were frequently published in various leading art magazines including “Art News,” the income from which allowed him to marry and, eventually, purchase a multistoried office building in Soho in 1968 to serve as his home and studio. He married the dancer, Julie Finch, and had a son and a daughter. The marriage did not survive, but the studio remained his base for the next 25 years. Between 1962 and 1966, the artist served as the artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College and taught sculpture at Brooklyn College and Yale University. His international reputation in the art market grew steadily as he held a string of solo exhibitions at Leo Castelli’s galleries from 1966 to 1985. This led to a numerous awards as well as patronage from the Swedish Institute, John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Late Years

In the last two decades of his life, Judd spent much of his time in the Texas desert, renting a house in Marfa in 1971. The sparseness of the land echoed the artist’s own minimalist aesthetic and, with the help of the Dia Foundation, he bought a 340-acre plot of land in Presidio County in 1979.  The tract included the ruins of the former D.A. Russell Army Fort, which was renovated to establish the Chinati Foundation in 1986. This development allowed the artist the freedom to create a permanent space for his large-scale works in adherence to his creative standards.

Donald Judd died of lymphoma in February of 1994. During the last decade of his life, the artist had expanded his oeuvre to include furniture design, always in pursuit of mediums in which art functions and interacts with its physical environments.

Works exhibited at:

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.

Museum of Modern Art, New York

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Hallen fur Neue Kunst, Schaffhausen

Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel



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