Donald Judd, David Zwirner, London

David Zwirner Gallery London recently presented a cross section of work spanning the length of renowned minimal sculptor Donald Judd’s prolific career, marking the first seminal exhibition of his work since the Tate Modern’s 2004 retrospective. The show offers a fascinating discourse into the stigmas associated with minimal art. However, “minimal” is a title that Judd hastened to dismiss due to its generality. Instead the visual vocabulary within Judd’s work adheres to overtures of functionality and objectivity owing to the artist’s personal interest in furniture design.

The most significant element of the exhibition is the amount of work on display. The limited number of sculptures allows for each piece to display its unique characteristics, unadulterated by the other works. As a by-product of this isolation, the work finds itself in the preoccupations that concern Judd’s practice. Spatial form – both interior and exterior to the sculptures and materiality – become either compliment or disrupt the domesticity of the gallery. On both floors of the exhibition muted wooden panels, dusty in their demeanour, conspire with the mountainous white walls to loom over the works. On the ground floor the presence of Untitled 1965, a sculpture that takes the format of a box finished in transparent red Plexiglas and stainless steel, contradicts the domestic architecture. The transparency of Plexiglas forms a visible vacuum. Inside this vacuum the form of the box and its materials exist purely in self-containment. With this ascertainment the obtrusive nature of these materials becomes apparent as the form seems to protect its purity – the self-containment overrides any sense of functionality within the gallery.

On the second level Untitled 1964 similarly appears to deploy the same obtrusive stance. Again the sculpture resides on the floor taking the form of a rounded edge square in galvanised iron. The result is finished in an ostentatious cadmium red – a colour favoured by Judd. However, here the work is exclusively focused on exterior space. As there is no internal space within the work for the viewer to gaze, the obtrusive nature quickly becomes passive in favour of alluding to greater functionality. One starts to notice how the shape of a square is used throughout the room in architectural features, most notably on the gridded window frames on the opposite side of the room, where the rounded edges of the sculpture are echoed by thin sheets of linen translucently softening the sharp angels on the repeated square grids.

Functionality existentially seeps in and out Judd’s work, this is most obvious with the vast amounts of stacks and progressions (repeated rectangular frames) Judd produced throughout his lifetime and became synonymous with. Some are seen adorning the walls in the exhibition, produced in a variety of materials. One particular row is located on the ground floor in MDF and pieces of wood protrude to produce a strict pattern of geometric shadow play. One can see an everyday functionality within its aesthetic, yet at the same time, what becomes evidently clear with Judd’s work is the intrinsic objectivity that emanates from the sculptures.

Donald Judd, finished mid-September, David Zwirner Gallery, 24 Grafton Street, David Zwirner, London.

William Davie

1. Installation view, Donald Judd, David Zwirner, London, 2013. Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London. Photo © 2013 Alex Delfanne.