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Donald Judd; Pioneer of Minimalist Art

February 15, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Donald Judd, prominent American postwar artist who spearheaded the minimalist art movement, has died at age 65.

Judd, who had homes in Manhattan, Marfa, Tex., and in Switzerland, died Saturday in New York City of lymphoma.

The artist preferred to work with solid geometric forms and was best known for his repetitive outsize boxes of stainless steel or plexiglass. He refused to call his art-form sculpture, claiming that word implied carving when his objects were factory built. He also disliked the word minimalist, preferring to call himself an empiricist.

"He is one of the crucial figures of the '60s generation. It is impossible to think of American art of that period without him," said Elizabeth C. Baker, editor of Art in America.

After studying philosophy at Columbia University, Judd was an abstract Expressionist painter in the 1950s, then moved to sculpture in 1963.

"The people I learned from were Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko," Judd told The Times in 1984. "I learned in a very remote way. My work doesn't really resemble theirs, but I learned from them and there's no excess there. That's certainly clear."

Judd was known not only as an artist but as an outspoken art critic and defender of his work.

"Everybody who defends their work is going to get in trouble," he once told The Times. "I'm difficult because my pieces cost a lot to make, they are large, I insist that they be installed well and that they be handled well."

Judd exhibited frequently in Southern California, as well as across the country and in Europe. In 1971, Times art critic William Wilson described a metal and plexiglass Judd display at the old Pasadena Art Museum as "a science fiction ghost town."

Judd could evoke unusual reactions simply by making his boxes in unexpected sizes and scale, Wilson noted, calling the exhibit "the Minimal Magician's Magical Media Mystery Show."

When the Margo Leavin Gallery exhibited 20 years of Judd's works in 1987, Times art writer Suzanne Muchnic evaluated: "The gleaming surfaces of Judd's stainless steel boxes, the structural variations of a 10-unit floor piece and the unexpected juxtapositions of color in recent painted wall pieces all project the idea of Judd as an innovator who pushes the limits of a rigid genre.

"A new, untouchably gorgeous work of anodized aluminum and copper confronts us with the sensual aspects of an artist who has long chafed against his minimalist label," she wrote.

Judd also designed furniture, beginning with items for his children. That, too, was an outlet for his unique style of art.

"All natural wood and sharp right angles, Judd's tables and chairs are designed for the eye rather than the body," commented Times writer Kristine McKenna when Judd exhibited his furniture at Angles Gallery in Santa Monica in 1985. "His pristine, cerebral objects are more concerned with exploring the idea of a chair than they are in providing a place to rest one's weary bones."

Born in Excelsior Springs, Mo., Judd served in the Army during the Korean War, working on a design and construction team. He later studied painting at the Art Students League.

Judd's work also was exhibited by major museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York's Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of Art, and the Kunstmuseum of Basel, Switzerland.

Judd is survived by his daughter, Rainer, of Los Angeles; his son, Flavin, of New York; his mother, Effie, of Excelsior Springs, Mo., and his companion, Marianne Stockebrand.

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