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Color St. Louis lucky: Pulitzer exhibits unique collection of Donald Judd's work

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: As industrial artist Donald Judd neared 60, his work took a new spin -- along the color wheel.

A seminal figure in contemporary art, the Excelsior, Mo., native often paired two colors. But from 1984 through 1992, two years before he died, Judd explored the rainbow. In a first-ever exhibit, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts will display two dozen objects and 30 collages and drawings from this period, in “The Multicolored Works,” opening May 10.

In his writings, Judd noted his intention was not to create a harmonious palette, but for each color to stand alone.

“I wanted a multiplicity all at once that I had not known before,” Judd wrote, just before his death.

Binding color to space

Judd’s work has historically focused on creating space in three-dimensional pieces, according to curator Marianne Stockebrand. Stockebrand is the former director of the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where Judd lived and worked for the last two decades of his life.

“He kept those key elements in these multicolored works,”  Stockebrand said. “He was able to bind color to space.”

The exhibit pulls from collections based in Italy, Switzerland and Austria as well as the Museum of Modern Art and other U.S. locations. Two works are on loan from  St. Louisans John and Sally Van Doren, and James C. Jamieson III.

Some of the exhibit’s pieces have been shown in galleries, but never in a survey of this scope. The inclusion of Judd’s drawings is intended to reveal some of his process.

“They were not meant to be living as drawings; they were his sketches, his notations,” Stockebrand said.

Judd is described as a minimalist sculptor, but he identified as neither a minimalist nor a sculptor. He thought of a “sculptor” as someone who carved, which he did not. He and many other artists reject the term “minimalism” as a meaningless word, placed upon them by critics who perceive that certain artists were working in a similar vein.

“Judd didn’t think his work was minimal,” Stockebrand said. “On the contrary, it was pretty maximal.”

More St. Louis Judds

The Pulitzer building, designed by internationally known architect Tadao Ando, is an ideal space in which to exhibit this Judd collection, according to Stockebrand. Its abundance of natural light will play on the surfaces of his objects for a “very pleasant” effect, she said.

The building’s simplicity also makes it a good fit for Judd’s clean lines, according to Washington University's Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum associate curator Meredith Malone. Malone said that Judd sought to free art from emotional content, moving beyond the work of his predecessors such as Jackson Pollock.

“Pollock was very much about the artist’s hand and the artist’s presence in his work,” Malone said. “This is sort of a redemption of that and an erasure of sorts.”

In his work, Judd did not actually assemble his objects. Instead, he contracted with fabricators to put together the rolled steel, aluminum, plexiglas and other materials into finished pieces.

“The point was not that his hand made them, but that the conceptual idea came from him,” Malone said.

St. Louis art lovers should be well-acquainted with Judd.  A fall 2012 exhibit of minimalist drawings at the Kemper included Judd’s work. An outdoor Judd is currently being restored at Laumeier Sculpture Park. And Two Judds in the St. Louis Art Museum collection will attain new prominence in the new East Wing, set to open in June.

A series of lectures, panel discussions, gallery talks and other events will accompany the exhibit’s eight-month run. Such in-depth explorations will further illuminate the importance of Judd’s work. But even without a deep understanding, the casual art aficionado can find enjoyment in the Judd exhibit, according to Malone.

“They are aesthetic objects that have a certain fascination and interest that is inherent in them,” Malone said.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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