Judd was born in Excelsior Springs in the state of Missouri in the United States. He served in the Army (1946-1947) then studied art and philosophy in various institutes, earning his B.S. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1953.
Judd held his first solo exhibition at the Panoramas Gallery in 1957. At that time he also took art history classes at Columbia University and began to write articles for various art magazines, including Art News, Arts Magazine and Art International.
In the early 1960s Judd switched from painting to sculpture and developed an interest in architecture. He began creating sculptures that used industrial materials and processes, such as plywood, steel and concrete, creating large boxes arranged in geometric forms. Those sculptures were displayed in his second solo show at the Green Gallery in New York in 1963. In 1966 the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York organised the first of a long series of exhibitions of Judd's work. During this period Judd also served as an instructor at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (1962-1964) and as a visiting artist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire (1966).
Judd's fame in the United States as one of the leading minimalist and conceptual artists of the time rose after the Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his works in 1968, later followed by participation in the Guggenheim International Award at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (1971). He later gained international acclaim after participating in the Venice Biennale in 1980 and the Kassel Documenta in 1984. A large exhibition of his works was displayed in the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, and a travelling retrospective of his works was organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988.