Donald Judd (b. 1928, Excelsior Springs, Missouri; d. 1994, New York) defined the artistic zeitgeist of the 1960s in the beginning of his seminal text ‘Specific Objects’ (1965), with the observation that, ‘half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture.’[1] This statement is certainly a testament to his own artistic practice, a body of objects that, very intentionally, were created to occupy this ambiguous realm and to exist outside the constrictions of any pre-defined medium. In Judd’s view, continually reinforced by the critical discourse that he himself perpetuated, his works could/would/and should not be characterized as traditional sculpture, nor share the characteristics of traditional painting. Rather, the artist/theoretician declared that his works were more of a paradoxical hybrid, like ‘a picture [which] stops being a picture and turns into an arbitrary object.’[2] Judd’s concepts and the physical objects that exemplified them, particularly those that the artist produced using the methods of industrial fabrication, had broad impact not only on the work of his like-minded contemporaries, but on a broad swath of art-making post-1960.

Donald Judd, Untitled (1969), copper, ten units with 9-inch intervals, 22.9 x 101.6 x 78.7 cm each. Courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Judd’s Untitled (1969), is a ten-unit columnar ‘stack,’ climbing up the wall to which it is installed in pre-determined intervals, created four years after the publication of ‘Specific Objects.’ In copper, it is an elegant accumulation of repetitive forms which defies attempts to be compared with conventional sculpture or quotidian objects, and which, by Judd’s design and intention, eschews subjective meaning or interpretation. Untitled, one of many Judd variations of this form which the artist created between 1965 and his death almost 30 years later, is also devoid of art historical references, and exists as a brazen and severe new form of art object. In an interview with Bruce Hooten, again in 1965, Judd stated, ‘…also I want [the work] to be non-naturalistic, non-imagistic, and non-expressionistic,’ instead existing purely as a three-dimensional structure, in real space.[3] The work was fabricated using industrial materials, following Judd’s exacting standards and specifications. The integrity of this and other ‘stacks,’ created in a variety of metals and Plexiglas, many in astonishing rich colors that come to life with variant lighting, is established by the unity, rather than through the individuality, of each rectangular unit. Judd stressed that the works from this series, and a range of other specific objects he created over his career, were thus liberated from previous art historical taxonomies, existing instead as pure forms.

ARTUNER’s current online project, Image Object, curated by Kirsty Ogg, the Director of London-based ‘open call’ student exhibition Bloomberg New Contemporaries, highlights Judd’s enduring influence on recent contemporary art practice, specifically in the participating artist’s similar defiance of traditional art classifications and definitions, with the kicker of their now having an even greater range of adaptable industrial materials to utilize. The exhibition bears witness to the continuing fluidity and dialogue between modes of painting and sculpture, as well as more variegated forms of art- making that combine photography, installation, new-media, and which take Judd’s initial premise of hybridization, to technology-driven extremes.

Two works by Nicolas Deshayes (b. 1983, Nancy, France; lives/works in London) included in Ogg’s curation, Public Material (2011) and Paris Rag (1) (2012), are exemplary of the blurred lines of contemporary media, and present a juxtaposition between the intentional austerity, and even sterility, of many of Judd’s machine fabricated objects, with Deshayes ironic introduction of disquieting elements of imperfection, degradation and even repulsion.

Nicholas Deshayes - Public Material

When Public Material is viewed on ARTUNER’s platform, existing only in an online format without a physical presence in a traditional exhibition space, and without explanatory narrative, the work appears to have a formality of design and even elegance, with its metallic rectangles artfully arranged against a background of four tastefully-colored panels. In fact, the four planks that ground Deshayes work are readymade panels, commonly used to line the walls of public restrooms (information only made known from the description). After the realization that the expanse of Deshayes’ Public Material, a 225 x 230 centimeter surface, has been appropriated from its quotidian functionality as wall panelling for a public space commonly disdained and hardly noticed by the average ‘user,’ and now repurposed as sculptural/design elements, the ontological status of the restroom readymade is elevated to that of a paradoxical art object. Once the viewer is aware of the nature and common usage of the materials, including the aluminum and neoprene foam that provides the ‘bling,’ Deshayes further distorts our perception and reception of these vernacular materials, when the notion that the panels have literally been appropriated, and are therefore possibly ‘used’ and soiled. The readymade bathroom panels appropriated for Deshayes artwork, actually taken from a lowly and even reviled setting, a public toilet, can further even conjure sensations of revulsion or shame with the bodily functions that take place in that setting. Deshayes admixture of materials, also creates a tension between the rigid factory-made industrial panelling, and the wavy organic forms which he arranges on the restroom panels, uneven organic surfaces derived from the artist’s experimentations with the vacuum-formed plastics, aluminum framing, and neoprene foam rectangles. Deshayes’ process is described by Frieze critic Kathy Noble as crafted ‘by pouring [neoprene foam] into a mould and moving it around when it was in a state between liquid and solid, so that it stretches and slumps.’[4] The chance occurrence of each chemical reaction results in the tactile and textured appearance of these five smaller-scale irregularly shaped rectangles. Unforeseeable outcomes are welcome in Deshayes’ oeuvre, and thus Public Material embraces creative disorder, while Judd’s copper Untitled, stands, in contrast, as a paradigm of solidity, immutability and perfection.

Deshayes second work in Ogg’s online project, shares a common sensibility with the work and philosophy of yet another giant of the 1960s, Judd’s  friend and contemporary, Carl Andre (b. 1935, Quincy, Massachusetts). Andre’s 144 Magnesium Squares (1969), focus the viewer’s experience down to the floor, and the variant physical properties and imperfections of the carefully plotted magnesium squares, upon which variegated levels of oxidation reacted with and changed the black tonalities of the metal.

144 Magnesium Square 1969 by Carl Andre

Like Judd, Andre was not involved in the actual facture or production of the magnesium plates, but instead with the studied arrangement of the different squares. In Andre’s view, his role as artist was more akin to that of a proletariat factory worker on a production line, arranging each piece of metal in place.[5] Deshayes’ work is informed by materials found at public sites, community restrooms, and communal areas, as well as those found on the street. His Paris Rag (1), appropriates the thick absorptive cloths that are still used to prevent the flooding of Parisian streets during heavy rainstorms. Made of carpet and polyester resin, these ‘lowly’ functional materials, like Andre’s 144 Magnesium Squares, become improbable floor sculpture, and given their purpose and degraded state, are even less dignified than Andre’s squares, over which the public was invited to walk.

In both Deshayes’ works exhibited on ARTUNER, Public Material and Paris Rag (1), the lowly quotidian materials – the restroom paneling and Paris street rags – are revived and bestowed with new meaning, though are not entirely relieved of their mundane, pragmatic and somewhat grim functionality.

Francesca Altamura is a student of Kirsty Ogg, and currently attending the University of London, Goldsmith’s College, in the postgraduate MFA in Curating Program.

Bibliography:

Judd, Donald. ‘Oral History Interview with Donald Judd, 1965 Feb. 3.’ Interview by Bruce Hooton. Oral Histories, Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution.

Judd, Donald. ‘Specific Objects.’ Contemporary Sculpture: Arts Yearbook 8 (1965); reprinted in Complete Writings,1959-1975: Gallery Reviews, Book Reviews, Articles, Letters to the Editor, Reports, Statements, Complaints.

Halifax, N.S.: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975. 181-89.

Noble, Kathy. ‘Focus: Nicolas Deshayes.’ Frieze Magazine, Issue 150. Oct. 2012.


[1] Donald Judd, ‘Specific Objects,’ Contemporary Sculpture: Arts Yearbook 8 (1965).

[2] Judd, ‘Specific Objects.’

[3] Donald Judd quoted in an interview with Bruce Hooton, ‘Oral History Interview with Donald Judd, 1965 Feb. 3,’ Oral Histories, Archives of American Art.

[4] Kathy Noble, ‘Focus: Nicolas Deshayes,’ Frieze Magazine, Issue 150 (Oct. 2012). Noble too notices that Deshayes work makes for an easy comparison with Judd’s specific objects, but continues her article by stating, ‘Yet, the ‘images’ [Deshayes] creates with the objects he makes could only have been made today, as his practice is equally related to the proliferation of stock photography via the Internet,’ writing more generally about Deshayes entire body of work.

[5] For further insight into Andre’s art practice, commitment to politics and identification with Marxism, see Alistair Rider, Carl Andre: Things in Their Elements (Phaidon Press: London, 2011).