Donald Clarence Judd, sculptor, was born in his grandparents' farmhouse in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, on June 3, 1928, the son of Roy Clarence and Effie (Cowsert) Judd. His father was an executive with Western Union, and the family moved frequently in his youth. He entered the College of William and Mary in 1948, but his studies were interrupted by a stint in the army during the Korean War. After his discharge he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Columbia and studied painting at the Art Students League in New York. During the late 1950s Judd returned for graduate work at Columbia, where he studied with famed art historians Meyer Schapiro and Rudolf Wittkower. He began his career as a painter, drawing on the work of the abstract Expressionists, but as time went on he became increasingly dissatisfied with painting, a medium that he came to believe was a thing of the past. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he established a reputation as an art critic, arguing that painting was, in his word, "finished." Instead, he championed the new generation of post-abstract Expressionist artists, such as John Chamberlain, Claes Oldenburg, and Frank Stella, whose work was moving away from what he viewed as outmoded European aesthetic ideals. Judd was particularly taken by the notion that art no longer had a representational purpose; he maintained that what mattered in a work of art was its own formal qualities-shape, color, surface, volume.
During the early 1960s he began making his own sculptures-boxes, ramps, and open geometric objects-many of them painted his favorite color, cadmium light red. His precisely made cubic and rectilinear works were instrumental in setting a new course for American sculpture and eventually established him as a leading figure in the Minimal Art movement. Judd's work, however, also brought sharp criticisms from conservative members of the art establishment. Noted art critic Hilton Kramer, for example, characterized Judd's simple serialized constructions, many of which were actually fabricated by others, as "radically depersonalized" and lacking all emotion-thus representing a dead end for art. Judd responded to such charges by arguing, in his typically deadpan style, that "art need only be interesting" and that it was "something you look at." In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Judd had solo shows at a number of leading museums and galleries, including the Leo Castelli Gallery, the Paula Cooper Gallery, and the Whitney Museum of American Art (all in New York City); Galleria Enzo Sperone, Rome; Lisson Gallery, London; Kunstmuseum, Basel; Janie C. Lee Gallery, Houston; and Westfälischer Kunstverein, Munster. Judd was also a Guggenheim Foundation fellow in 1968 and a National Endowment for the Arts grantee in 1967 and 1976. In his later years he tried his hand at designing furniture and architecture, using the same simple formal language he employed in his sculpture.
In the early 1970s Judd acquired a 45,000-acre ranch overlooking the Rio Grande in West Texas and purchased a number of buildings in and around Marfa, including the barracks, hangars, and gymnasium of an abandoned army base, Fort D. A. Russell. He converted the hangars, which had been used in World War II to hold German prisoners, into massive galleries for contemporary art and refurbished some of the other structures to serve as work, office, and storage spaces. During the mid-1970s he began erecting the first of a series of works on the spare landscape in and around Marfa and eventually assembled there one of the world's largest permanent contemporary-art installations. Although sometimes difficult and contentious, Judd became a fixture in the town. Every year he hosted a large art opening, complete with Mexican food and his favorite music-bagpipes. While some locals were frankly puzzled by his sculptures and activities, they welcomed the attention and jobs he brought to the community. For some time Judd's work was partially supported by the New York-based Dia Foundation, but in 1985 he threatened to sue the foundation, which he believed had failed to follow through on a promise to fund permanent installations of his and other contemporary artists' work in Marfa. Eventually he and Dia worked out an agreement to establish the Chinati Foundation, which took possession of the artworks and the former army post. During his last two decades, Judd traveled frequently, splitting time among his homes in West Texas, New York, and Küssnacht am Rigi, Switzerland. His marriage, to dancer Julie Finch, ended in divorce. In the last years of his life he lived with Marianne Stockebrand. He was the father of two children, Flavin Starbuck and Rainer Yingling. Judd died of lymphoma at New York Hospital in Manhattan on February 14, 1994.