On the surface, it may appear that Donald Judd’s “Untitled” (Fig. 1) and Tony Cragg’s “Elliptical Column” (Fig. 2) only share an aesthetic similarity in their use of repetitive form. However, the sculptors different choices in the way they present their stacked forms expose them to common ground in their use of a) gravity, b) material, c) “Factory” production and d) observation. This latter indicates parallels between the sculptors’ works and Minimalist musician Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain”, demonstrating how Minimalist concepts are pertinent in both auditory and visual interpretation “Untitled” consists of ten simple rectangular highly polished copper units, which are cantilevered to a gallery wall. The repetition of the simple serial forms and spaces between them creates a vertical stack that plays with positive and negative space, suggesting the illusion of the forms floating. Art critics view a sense of gravity as crucial in uniting “sculpture and the spectator in a common dependence on the resistance to the pull of the earth,” (Janovy, 2005, p.185), Judd has rejected this, and just what his “Untitled” should be classified as is heavy debated. The rectangular structures are technically sculptural reliefs, as they rely on the gallery wall for support. However, in his 1965 essay ‘Specific Objects’, Judd suggested an innovative art that is “neither painting nor sculpture” but a “specific object” (1965, p. 1) .
“Untitled” uses manufactured interchangeable units that can be stacked or stored depending on the height of a gallery wall. These industrial units exist both as individual objects as well as part of a serial installation. By giving his sculpture an anti-gravity feel, Judd highlights the stylized, geometric, and industrial seriality of the stacked rectangles.
Contrastingly, Cragg uses the illusion of gravity to enhance the biomorphic-stacked forms in “Elliptical Column”. The piece is a tall free-standing, slender, vertical column comprised of balanced, squashed, and stacked circles, which construct an organic undulating form. The sculpture’s mass and volume demands the viewer’s awareness to its dominant presence in a rural setting. The stacked column of morphed forms rises from the ground and suggests a similar underground extension, mimicking the organic structure of the trees that surround it. Unlike the clean lines and simple shapes in “Untitled,” “Elliptical Column” has a rotating axis, which compresses the volumes around it. The form created is no longer architectural or organic but dynamic. The stacked circles are compressed, stretched, and completely distorted in order to create random layers of stacked forms; the surreal morphed shape resembles an underwater air bubble or a whirling tornado. The overwhelming height of the sculpture and its dynamic upward movement suggests growth and make us aware of our own gravitational presence in relation to the form. Both artists use the concept of gravity in the presentation of their sculptures to enhance the staking element in their work and appropriate the sculpture within its environment.
Whilst the artists present their sculptures in different settings, their use of the metal medium and utilization of its reflective quality adds to their individual choice of stacking. The material is a fundamental source of inspiration in both Judd’s and Cragg’s practice, with “Untitled” and “Elliptical Column” both using metal. Both bronze and stainless steel have a reflective quality, which enables them to reflect back their environment and existing objects within the space.
Judd’s sculpture is designed to exist in a gallery setting, where the rectangular forms reflect the geometric architecture of the gallery. The illusion is broken once our human organic form enters and disturbs the sculpture’s reflecting surface. When this occurs, the viewer becomes aware of the sculpture’s symmetrical, standardized and impersonal qualities, created by the stark and simple arrangements of ‘stacks’ and bringing awareness of the piece’s physical structure and the space it inhabits.
In contrast, by existing in the outdoors, “Elliptical Column” reflects the foliage in the park, which camouflages the sculpture to a degree in its surrounds. However, unlike “Untitled”, the highly polished stainless steel surface reflects back a distorted image of both the surroundings and the viewer. “Elliptical Column” exemplifies Cragg’s concept of “the surface being the way of entry into the material” (Sawyer, 1999) as the sculpture’s visual impact is reliant on its reflective skin, which makes a viewer aware of the stainless steel material and the undulating fluid form itself. The use of expanding and shrinking perspectives is a crucial part in Cragg’s sculpture, revealing a closer organic relation between the body, object and landscape. Whilst Cragg uses the steel’s mirror quality to start a conversation between the form and the viewer, Judd uses the reflection as a way of distancing the viewer from the object, highlighting his sculpture’s industrial, cold, mechanical aesthetic.
Both artists use the ‘Factory’ concept in the production of their aesthetically different works. However, the manufacturing process ties in closely with the works’ political and social comment.
The most obvious aesthetical difference between “Untitled” and “Elliptical Column”, is the former’s use of industrial geometric stacking in contract to the latter’s biomorphic fluid form. “Untitled” and “Elliptical Column” were created 43 years apart and exemplify an artistic development in the conceptual and compositional approach of stacking forms. Judd’s “Untitled” showcases Minimalism’s comment on the 1960’s rapid industrial growth and developments in mass production and consumerism. The production of raw materials and the mechanical age is represented in the construction of the geometric stacked rectangles, which resemble stacked goods on supermarket shelves. Judd employed professional industrial fabricators to create the mathematically correct forms. The perfect finish focuses the viewer’s attention on the object itself rather than the artistic craftsmanship. In a rapidly developing materialistic society filled with objects, “Untitled” has that machine-made aesthetic and reflects the factory culture of the time. The use of modern industrial materials in the creation of factory-made objects results in a formalist-type reduction, which removes any trace of the transitional artistic hand. Judd’s Minimalistic work challenges the Modernist tradition of medium-specificity by collapsing the distinction between ‘factory made’, high art, and the everyday object.