Donald Judd's UNTITLED

Focal Point

Tamera Lenz Muente

It seems innocuous enough at first: an 8-by-8-by-16-foot aluminum box on a grassy rise in the center of Northern Kentucky University's (NKU) plaza. Yet, this structure, often mistaken for a large air vent or dumpster, is arguably one of the most significant public sculptures in the Cincinnati area:DONALD JUDD's UNTITLED.

In 1977, NKU, with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky State Legislature, commissioned Untitled from Judd, the preeminent practitioner of Minimalism.

The Minimalists sought to pare down art to its most elemental forms. They simplified sculpture to the most basic three-dimensional element — the cube. And Judd, master of the cube, was Minimalism's poster boy.

His NKU sculpture, exactly twice as long as it is wide, is made of 1-inch-thick aluminum. Another sheet of aluminum bisects its interior diagonally.

Judd deliberately selected the site for the sculpture, intending the piece to echo the campus's architecture. In fact, from a certain vantage point, the diagonal inside the sculpture lines up perfectly with a slant on the roof of the Fine Arts Center.

Such a simple structure could not escape controversy. According to NKU photography professor Barry Andersen, the box spurred quite a scandal. While the art department faculty understood it was a major work by one of America's most innovative artists, many others saw it as an industrial eyesore.

Judd, of course, was aware of the negative reception. At the dedication ceremony, Judd, usually articulate, stepped to the microphone and said, facetiously, that art should speak for itself, and this was his art. Take that, you naysayers of Minimalism!

Today the piece is a fixture on campus. I've seen children use its interior diagonal as a giant slide and students study on the grass around it. I wonder how many of them realize how important a work of art it is.

FOCAL POINT turns a critical lens on a singular work of art. Through Focal Point we slow down, reflect on one work and provide a longer look.

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