Robert Irwin Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles January 23–April 21, 2018 In Robert Irwin’s words, a scrim “is both there and it’s not,” a status that could just as easily describe the effects of history. His site-specific exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles, which occupies two floors of the gallery, seems to resonate with L.A.’s history, not in the least because it so vigorously attempts a dialogue with both the exterior street and the interior structure. On the first floor, the windows facing Wilshire Boulevard are left unobscured, providing glimpses of passing buses, pedestrians, and William Pereira’s facade of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as veiled by the semitransparent sheen of the scrims. In contrast, the second floor features opaque interior walls that block out most of the exterior light, but are interrupted at the corners so that a viewer can walk behind the walls and stand in a purposefully awkward nook next to one of the building’s original windows. On the first floor, the visitor is made aware of the act of perception, while on the second floor the inevitable limitations of one’s perception become evident. The exhibition, which was on view through April 21, was designed by Robert Irwin for this specific, 5,000-square-foot space. Because the work is so intertwined with the building, it’s difficult not to describe the work in terms of decor. This is especially pronounced on the second floor, which features banks of neon tubes that seem to be oversize dispatches from a partial DNA sample. Space is occasionally left between the mounted tubes, creating the impression of absence within the bank. However, installed above the neon tubes in the ceiling are inactive fluorescent lights, which seem to hint at the inevitability of mortality. One may begin life as a vivid neon tube, but eventually, the light goes out. The darker interior, which is bisected by a black rectangular scrim, amplifies this feeling of absence: The room appears to be the remainder of something, not its origin point. The fact that the viewer is designed to encounter the second floor after the first makes the former both potentially a dramatic ending and a second act; depending on how long one lingers on the first floor after walking down the stairs, the second floor can become a referendum on how we choose to perceive. Once we’ve seen what’s out there, do we ultimately open our perceptions up to the outside world, or do we end up ensconced in our own darkened, incomplete rooms? Back on the first floor, a series of square black-lacquered panels are placed along the wall opposite the scrims. If a viewer walks around the installation, these panels visually align with the black squares on the scrim to create undulating tunnels of fabric and air. What was formerly indistinct and wispy suddenly becomes solid and intense. It is the architectural expression of realization, a tangible eureka moment. Walk a little farther on, however, and the squares once again fall out of alignment, becoming just shadows in the void. The exhibition can only be viewed during daylight hours, which lends it a certain poignancy, but not urgency. Much like Los Angeles itself, the materials involved and the ample amount of space in which to view them promotes a relatively serene atmosphere. There’s not a sense of hurry, but there is a sense of finitude. This is not an experience that can be repeated in some other room, at some other time. It is designed to root the viewer in that particular moment, and what a moment it is: The relative lack of ornament amplifies both the sleepy midday traffic outside and whatever feelings and thoughts preoccupy the viewer, which on a Wednesday afternoon in April 2018 in the United States are variegated, to say the least. Much like the scrims, the presence of history is both there and not there, subtly framing everything we see. Julia Ingalls is primarily an essayist who lives in Los Angeles.
Posts tagged with "Robert Irwin":
On show at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas is a work that has taken more than a decade and a half to create. From the Californian-born artist Robert Irwin, the untitled installation is his largest work to date. According to the foundation, it is also the "only permanent, freestanding structure that has been conceived and designed by Irwin as a total work of art." In 1999, Irwin was asked to create a work that would be located within an abandoned army hospital next to the Chinati museum’s main campus. In the time that followed, Irwin drew inspiration from the site's openness, surrounding landscape, and sky overhead. The result is an installation-cum-building that plays with numerous forms of permeability. Light, color, and voids are articulated in an orthogonal fashion in a manner that's reminiscent of Catalonian artist Ignasi Aballì. In these instances, perspectives seem like two-dimensional canvases. In 2012, Irwin discussed his initial thoughts on the site:
When they offered me the hospital, it was interesting to me how well those buildings work in that environment, and they were probably done by somebody who hacked them out in Washington, DC during the war—very functional, very straight-forward, low-key, but they really are amazingly right for that situation, so I fell in love with the building from the very beginning. The building was falling down, it still is. There is no roof, the floor is gone; it's in total disarray.The former hospital featured a C-shaped concrete structure with windows tracing the perimeter on both sides. On Irwin's first visit, the flooring had been removed, causing the window sills to rise to eye level. Irwin went on to describe the site as having a “Dutch landscape-like view” of the surrounding vicinity. The existing building—which was subsequently demolished and replaced with Irwin's modern, concrete structure—was also situated on a slope. According to the foundation, to maintain that "physical relationship," Irwin also cut his new construction into the hillside (for more construction details, see the foundation's website.) Irwin's structure is also divided in half, with a split between light and dark. Translucent floor-to-ceiling scrim walls, which are featured throughout the building, are colored either black or white. Depending on the audience's view, they can appear opaque and transparent as light filters through. Meanwhile, some antechambers offer no ceiling—a reference to the hospital's ruins. The former courtyard located within the C-shaped crescent of the former hospital is now a garden. Concrete paths run in alongside Corten steel-lined raised beds with two rows of Palo Verde trees. According to the foundation, rest of the vicinity—comprising fields of grasses, wildflowers, mesquite, scrubs, and cactus—has been left in its "natural state."
The Getty Trust announced last week that it will give its J. Paul Getty Medal to Frank Gehry. This is the third time the Getty will hand out the award—established "to recognize living individuals from all over the world for their leadership in the fields in which the Getty works"—and the first time it will go to an architect. Past winners include Lord Jacob Rothschild, Harold M. Williams, and Nancy Englander. Gehry's building achievements, which have "changed the course of architecture," according to Getty CEO James Cuno, make him an obvious choice for the prize. But it's his collaborations with contemporary artists that made him an exceptional fit, said Cuno. "He was a central figure in the contemporary art world in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s, working closely with Billy Al Bengston, Larry Bell, John Altoon, Bob Irwin, Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha, and Ken Price. And he continues to work closely with artists, including Claes Oldenburg and Jeff Koons, for whom he has collaborated on deeply sensitive installations of their work,” noted Cuno. The award will be handed out at the Getty Center in September.
Robert Irwin’s “Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light” The Whitney Museum of American Art 945 Madison Avenue New York, NY Through September 1 It has been 36 years since Robert Irwin, now 84 years old, debuted his Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This summer, the legendary installation, designed specifically for the fourth floor of the Breuer building, returns to the museum. As the title suggests, Irwin’s minimalist installation is composed of three simple elements: a black line that runs along the length of the gallery walls, natural light that enters through the museum’s iconic trapezoidal window, and a white translucent polyester scrim hung from the ceiling that slices through the space. These elements divide the space into various geometric forms and create a disorienting experience. As visitors circle the gallery and daylight moves across the room, the perception of space is shown to be less definite than one might previously have imagined.
This summer, the Whitney Museum of American Art will reinstall a work for the first time since its original conception in 1977. Robert Irwin (b. 1928) formed the large-scale Scrim veil-Black rectangle-Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, especially for the Emily Fisher Landau Gallery almost four decades ago. The exhibition was central to Irwin’s career, as it determined the path for his ensuing practice, and will now be on display for the second time from June 27 to September 1, 2013. The work accentuates the Whitney’s renowned Breuer building and the natural light that reaches the interior from the single Madison Avenue window. Irwin’s installation involves a partially transparent white scrim weighted down by a black metal bar. The system is suspended from the ceiling and hangs five and a half feet above the floor, spanning 117 feet across the room. A thin black line mirrors the bar and borders the gallery walls. The elements accentuate the setting and sway visitors’ observations of the Museum’s fourth floor. In concurrence with the exhibition, the Whitney will digitize the 1977 exhibition catalogue and make it accessible online. It will contain images, plans, and information assembled by the 1977 exhibition’s curator, Richard Marshall. The updated report will include a new introduction by Whitney Chief Curator Donna De Salvo. Photographs and drawings associated with the display will be located in another fourth-floor gallery. Robert Irwin is a native of Long Beach, California and studied at the Otis Art Institute and the Chouinard Art Institute, where he trained in Abstract Expressionist painting. He was invited to join the Ferus Gallery in 1958, but soon after he began to create new minimalist works. As he fused his creative methods with his interests in science, philosophy, and religion, Irwin conceived that art must be conditional to its environment and must enhance viewers’ perceptions. He deserted the idea of the frame to create art in express response to certain settings. An artist at the forefront of the Light and Space movement, he continues to build site-specific works.