Donald Judd’s terse writing opens up an enormously generous field of no.
In a characteristically blunt 1967 statement he writes:
“I don’t think there’s anything special about squares, which I don’t use, or cubes. They certainly don’t have any intrinsic meaning or superiority. One thing though, cubes are a lot easier to make than spheres. The main virtue of geometric shapes is that they aren’t organic, as all art otherwise is. A form that’s neither geometric nor organic would be a great discovery.”
Judd begins by stripping his subject of any distinction—the square won’t be upheld for its purity of form or its democratizing evenhandedness here. He continues with a series of negations and what returns, once content is shaken off form like so much dust, is utility and difference. The cube is a no-fuss form, and geometry a useful refutation of art’s classical function as an imitation of nature.
What Judd ends with, however, is a question that seems almost to beg for a supernatural answer. It’s an impossible question—most good questions are—but here the impossibility follows as a matter of course from the all-encompassing binary of its mobilizing terms. One way out of this binary is to reach each pole and keep walking.
What frames Judd’s geometries? In his text it is clearly bodies. There is the speaking subject—the text’s inaugural I—and there are the hands that make cubes and those that struggle to make spheres; there is the evaluating body and the discoverer. The reverse line can also be traced. The crib, the city grid, and the coffin: the body is produced, used, held by, and sometimes abandoned to its geometries. But finding each pole of a binary always already nestled within its purported other doesn’t yet give us Judd’s third term. What lies outside of everything that exists?
If the answer is nothing, then the question shifts to what gives form to nothing.
In describing Bontecou’s canvases that frame a central void, Judd writes, “The image is an object, a grim, abyssal one,” and “The dominant image, the central hole surrounded by canvas, is not primarily allusive and descriptive. The black hole does not allude to a black hole; it is one.” Why then the recourse to the idea of image in the first place? Perhaps because a form can’t be nothing, yet an artwork can give image to the loss of its own structure. It can create a frame in which to present a hole. The hole itself, the absence of form, is neither geometric nor organic. Bontecou’s no is Judd’s answer.
COLLEEN ASPER is an artist. Recent exhibitions include a solo show at On Stellar Rays, New York, NY (2016); the debut of a work with Marika Kandelaki as part of the New Commissions Program at Art in General in New York, NY (2016); a two-person show at K., New York, NY (2015); and group exhibitions at P!, New York, NY (2015); The Drawing Center, New York, NY (2015); Queens Museum, Queens, NY (2015); The Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton College, Oceanville, NJ (2015); and Anahita Art Gallery, Tehran, Iran (2015). Her work has received numerous reviews by publications that include Artforum, the New York Times, and the New Yorker and she has contributed writing to publications that include Art in America, Lacanian Ink, and Paper Monument.