Specific Objects

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Specific Objects
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Ben Elias Editor in chief


Specific Objects

Creator: Donald Judd

Decades after it was first published, a 6-page essay and the body of work that would follow it stand as timeless sources of inspiration for the creators at VERK. Indeed, the contributions of Donald Judd to modernist art and the process of creation would turn out to be nothing less than seminal.


A former army engineer and philosophy major, Judd began studying art history and experimenting as a painter in the late 1940´s of the New York conceptual art scene. However, his artistic style and aesthetic principles would slowly move him away from what he felt were the two-dimensional constraints of the canvas until he was fully immersed in the exploration of three-dimensional forms in the course of the next two decades.

This would culminate in his manifesto-like document Specific Objects, released in 1964, presented the observation that a new form of three-dimensional art, neither painting nor sculpture, was emerging as the new and dominant wave of artistic expression. Free of the creators’ personal touch, this new form of work emphasized the purity of the objects rather than their embellishments. “Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a surface he noted, meaning that even a simple object that shares physical space with its viewer and deliberately impacts its spatial environment is inherently more powerful than a two-dimensional painting or intricately carved sculpture. 


Using terms such as “stacks”, “boxes” and “progressions”, Judd would base his life’s work after the release of the essay around basic geometric shapes (or specific objects as he called them), often rectilinear or cubic in shape, and often in repeated numerical sequences. Industrial materials such as metal, plywood, concrete and colored Plexiglas would be used.

In the process, Judd made several groundbreaking choices at the time such as displaying the items without a base, placed directly on the floor. Up until then, physical art was either a canvas hung on a wall or a sculpture placed on a pedestal. Also, he began outsourcing the manufacturing of his pieces to professional artisans that would create them based on his technical drawings. Before this, it was a universally held belief that artists make their own art, and Judd’s assertion that “the methods should not matter as long as the results create art” was another revolutionary concept introduced by him to the creative process.


Fixated on the idea of permanent installations he bought his first building, 101 Spring Street, a five-story building in New York that would serve as his home and studio for the next 25 years. He advanced this idea further by buying a 60 000 acre ranch in Marfa, Texas as that to this day stands as a home to his permanent installations. His work in Marfa includes over 100 aluminum pieces and outdoor works that are on display to this day.


Having passed in 1994, the fact that his art was crafted by others and relied on mathematical progression would remain a point of controversy for years. Despite this, critics both con and pro frequently remark on the moral integrity of his work as well as the beauty of his unadorned surfaces. While both his art and his thinking were often seen as having greatly influenced conceptual art and conceptual creators around the world, the ever-modest Judd would decline to take credit until the end, always maintaining "art need only be interesting to be art".

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