(Excelsior Springs, Missouri, 1928 - 1994, New York, NY)
Donald Clarence Judd was born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri on June 3, 1928. (1) Due to his father’s occupation as an executive with Western Union, his family moved repeatedly throughout his childhood. On June 28, 1946, Judd enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served as a construction foreman in the Army Corp of Engineers in Korea. He was honorably discharged in November 1947. In 1948, Judd registered at the Art Students League, New York. A few months later, he transferred to the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1949, Judd moved back to New York to study philosophy at Columbia University while taking night classes at the Art Students League. He received a B.S. in Philosophy in 1953, and in 1957, the artist worked towards a Master’s degree in art history. Between 1959 and 1965, Judd wrote articles and critiques for "Arts" magazine, "Art International," and "Art News" to support himself.
Judd’s first solo exhibition was at the Panoras Gallery, New York in 1957. Here he exhibited expressionist paintings. During the early 1960s, the artist began to focus on his interest in sculpture and architecture. Soon after, he began exhibiting extensively in galleries in New York, but also around the United States, Japan, and Europe. (2)
Judd began teaching at the Brooklyn Institute of the Arts and Sciences in 1962; he remained there until 1964. He was hired by Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1966 as a visiting artist. The following year Judd worked as an instructor at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. In 1964, Judd married dancer Julie Finch. (3) They had two children, a son in 1968 named Flavin Starbuck Judd and a daughter in 1970 named Rainer Yingling Judd. In the same year as the birth of his son, Judd purchased a five-story cast iron building at 101 Spring Street, New York. Throughout his life, the artist renovated the space to become his home and studio. While still keeping this residence, in 1972, Judd moved to Marfa, Texas to continue his work.
While in Texas, Judd continued his sculpting, painting, and woodworking, but also began designing furniture for manufacture. During the 1980s, the artist prepared the plans for the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. This compound opened in 1968, showcasing Judd’s sculpture, along with the work of other contemporary artists.
In 1992, Judd was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm. The same year he won an award from the Stankowski Foundation, Stuttgart. Along with these accomplishments, Judd received many awards of merit and endowments from the John Guggenhim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Swedish Institute, and many others.
On February 12, 1994, at the age of sixty-five, Judd died in a Manhattan hospital after his battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The Judd Foundation was created in 1996 in order to preserve the artist’s work and pay off his debts.
Judd left a legacy not only to other Minimalist artists, but to the art world as a whole. As an art critic of the late 1950s and early 60s, Judd’s support and defense of the new, upcoming art became apparent and he established his style as an artist himself. Displeased with his classification as a Minimalist, Judd began to call himself an “empiricist.” (4) Though his designs were extremely simple and minimal, he pledged that “a shape, a volume, a color, a surface is something itself.” (5) He created work that was manufactured and assembled by others, saying, “Art need only be interesting.” (6) The artist worked to remove nonessential allusions, connotations or metaphors from his work. Through the fabrication of artwork, he removed the artist, allowing his art to be self-sustaining and self-contained, not relying on anything other than the integrity of the object itself. Judd’s art and artistic theories directly influenced Conceptual artists. In partnership with the Dia Art Foundation, The Chinati Foundation was created in 1986 as a non-profit art establishment dedicated to Judd and other contemporary artists.
(1) The information in this essay was compiled from the following sources: Information in the artist’s vertical file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Archive, Montgomery, Alabama; David Raskin, "Donald Judd," Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2010; "The Writings of Donald Judd," compiled by the Chinati Foundation, 2009; Barbara Haskell, "Donald Judd," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1988.
(2) Major exhibitions of his work took place at The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1968, 1988); The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1975); Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (1987); The Saint Louis Art Museum (1991), along with many other museum exhibitions.
(3) The couple divorced in 1976.
(4) Roberta Smith, “Donald Judd, Leading Minimalist Sculptor, Dies at 65,” The New York Times, February 13, 1994, Accessed and copied July 8, 2015; Artist’s vertical file, The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Archive.
(5)Smith, “Donald Judd, Leading Minimalist Sculptor, Dies at 65.”
Cayla Hamilton, 7/2015