Donald Judd

Horizontal Wall Works (Progressions)

In October 2009 Chinati opened an exhibition of Donald Judd’s untitled horizontal wall works. The works on view were all from Chinati’s collection. These extremely long wall pieces date from 1979–80, but the form employed here was developed by Donald Judd in the mid-1960s and is commonly called a “progression” because of the progressing dimensions of the boxes. The two kinds of progressions represented in the exhibition are based on a) addition and b) inverse natural numbers.

The two short pieces are based on values that continually double: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, while the majority of the exhibited works are based on the second category—inverse natural numbers—a sequence that’s built on alternating addition and subtraction: 1, -1/2, +1/3, -1/4, +1/5 and so forth. (Judd also used a third formula, the Fibonacci sequence, which was not exhibited here.)

In his determination to liberate himself from traditional forms of composition and to work with given orders instead, artworks based on different number sequences became a key motif in Judd’s oeuvre. Ordered according to simple additive computations, the volumetric forms of the progressions create sequences that start small but rapidly increase in size—almost disproportionately so. The interstices follow the same pattern, but run in the opposite direction so that the longest shapes are separated by the shortest openings.

The progressions based on inverse natural numbers appear much more uniform by comparison, because the values ordering them increasingly converge and result in shapes that also seem more uniform. Again, they are interrupted by spaces whose dimensions follow the same pattern, but progress in the opposite direction.

Both types of works are built from one long rectangular tube to which boxes are attached in such a way that they run behind and underneath the tube, doubling the height and depth of the work. The particular combination of these elements permitted Judd an orientation in two directions: one running lengthwise along the long tube; the other running crosswise (or from front to back)—thus integrating volumes and spaces in an atypical—or in Judd’s words “polarized”—way. Judd employed this dual orientation in several other sculptures, as well as in architecture—the most prominent and closest example being the two former artillery sheds and their one hundred aluminum pieces. These two long buildings have one axis that runs lengthwise (which is emphasized by the placement of the pieces inside), but also a second axis that runs crosswise, thus permitting a view across the building. This arrangement prevents a viewer from understanding the building in only one way; in fact, the building requires multiple views in order to fully comprehend its whole and its parts. The same is true for the progressions: they should be seen from all sides as their tops and bottoms, or sides, are no less interesting as their fronts.

The progressions in this exhibition were made from galvanized iron, brass, copper, and clear or colored anodized aluminum.