ROBERT IRWIN

Robert Irwin. Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2013

 

Robert Irwin (*1928) is one of the most eminent and influential postwar American artists, who for over six decades has developed and refined what he terms “conditional” or “site-conditioned” art. His practice, which is often associated with the California-based Light and Space movement, encompasses painting and sculpture, installations, landscape projects, and interventions in public space. His actual medium is the viewer’s perception itself. The artist’s works dissolve conventional modes of reception to enable new forms of individual experience and an awareness of the aesthetic potential of our everyday surroundings.

 

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Irwin started his career as a painter in the 1950s. Though considered a defining figure of West Coast Abstract Expressionism, his focus was less the actual painting than the charged realm of experience that comes in to play between painting and viewer. Irwin’s interest in the phenomenological experience of art soon led him away from the gestural language favored by his colleagues and toward a radically reduced visual vocabulary of color fields and stripes. A further step came in the 1960s, when the artist dissolved conventional boundaries between painting and exhibition space by arranging disc-shaped paintings in such a way that they reflect various light sources. The resulting light installations became as integral to the work as the paintings themselves.

In the 1970s, Irwin abandoned painting and studio work altogether and developed a kind of installation art devoted entirely to the phenomenology of perception. His early interventions—made with such modest materials as scrim, twine or adhesive tape—probe the aesthetic potential of exhibition spaces by dismantling familiar patterns of perception and directing viewers’ attention to environmental qualities that already exist in a given space.

From that basis, the artist radicalized his philosophy of aesthetic experience (ideas also reflected in Irwin’s many theoretical essays and lectures) and built a practice that consistently conceives of art as a response to the perceptual conditions of a specific site, whether spatial, cultural, historical or institutional. The resulting works could engage with the particular shape of an exhibition space in a museum, a quality of the light in the treetops of a park, a city view from a window or one of waves breaking over the Pacific Ocean. Some of Irwin’s interventions are of an almost inconspicuous, architectural nature. Others consist in installations employing such materials as fluorescent light tubes, semi-transparent Plexiglas walls, wire-and-steel constructions or colored aluminum panels. Some involve designing entire gardens. His work subverts the dominant logics of space and architecture by recalibrating the viewer’s physical and sensual experience, altering public space and creating surprising patterns of movement. Works in this vein include his legendary Central Garden (1997) at the Getty Center in Los Angeles; his installation Excursus: Homage to the Square³ (1998) at the Dia Art Foundation in New York (reimagined at Dia:Beacon in 2015); or untitled (dawn to dusk) (2016), his expansive architectural intervention on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.

Irwin’s conditional art could also be understood as an ethical project, which he has further expanded in diverse philosophical writings that posit art as a form of pure inquiry and root his approach within the discourse of modern and contemporary art. His works manage to interact with their surroundings without imposing their beliefs on anything or creating new social hierarchies. They set the stage for a radical pluralism of thought and experience, offering the viewer an entirely new way of seeing and perceiving.    

 

A Few Things About Robert Irwin
LACMA, Los Angeles, 2016
Directed by Lisanne Skyler

 

Works
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015

Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015
Light + Shadow + Reflection + Color
182.9 × 242.6 × 10.8 cm
72 × 95 1/2 × 4 1/4 inches

More views
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Untitled, 1966–67

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 1966–67
Acrylic paint on shaped aluminum
ø 152.4 cm
ø 60 inches

Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018
Honeycomb aluminum, polyester primer, Irwin black
68.6 × 68.6 cm (each panel)
27 × 27 inches (each panel)

More views
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2017–18

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2017-2018
Synthetic fabric, wood, black pigment, tint, honeycomb aluminum, polyester primer, Irwin black, natural light
Dimensions variable

More views
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015

Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015
Light + Shadow + Reflection + Color
182.9 × 239.4 × 10.8 cm
72 × 94 1/4 × 4 1/4 inches

More views
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Central Garden, 1997

Robert Irwin
Central Garden, 1997
Permanent installation at the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA
Upper Stream Garden Path – Double stands of sculpture squared London Plane trees, zig-zag path, stream with rock sculptures, shade garden with appropriate plants

Plaza – Stream ends at plaza with waterfall falling into pool of water, Rebar Steel Sculptures with bougainvillea

Lower Garden – body of water with 2 Floating Azalea mazes, 2 rings of Crepe Myrtle Trees, sun garden with multifaceted plant material
Dimensions variable

Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997
Apertures cut into existing windows
Left: 61 × 76.2 cm
Center: 61 × 66 cm
Right: 61 × 76.2 cm
Overall Room: 292.1 × 812.8 × 561.3 cm
Left: 24 × 30 inches
Center: 24 × 26 inches
Right: 24 × 30 inches
Overall Room: 115 × 320 × 221 inches

More views
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2011

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2011
Acrylic column
473.7 cm × 22.9 cm × 8.9 cm
186 1/2 × 9 × 3 1/2 inches

Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE - >< - / Dark Lead, 2016

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE – >< – / Dark Lead, 2016
Light + Shadow + Reflection + Color
182.9 × 43.8 × 11.7 cm
72 × 17 1/4 × 4 5/8 inches

More views
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007

Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007
115 fluorescent lights, one wall
689 × 1574.8 cm
271 1/4 × 620 inches

More views
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
Excursus: Homage to the Square³, 1998/2015

Robert Irwin
Excursus: Homage to the Square³, 1998/2015
Synthetic fabric, paint, wood, flourescent light, polyester gels, and natural light

Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Permanent installation at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX
Horseshoe shaped building with double east/west entrances, windows throughout, white and black scrims, articulated outdoor/indoor light, basalt rock feature interior court garden, U-shaped stand of Palo Verde trees
Dimensions variable

More views
Details
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015
Light + Shadow + Reflection + Color
182.9 × 242.6 × 10.8 cm
72 × 95 1/2 × 4 1/4 inches

Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Shorty George, 2015
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 1966–67
Acrylic paint on shaped aluminum
ø 152.4 cm
ø 60 inches

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 1966–67
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018
Honeycomb aluminum, polyester primer, Irwin black
68.6 × 68.6 cm (each panel)
27 × 27 inches (each panel)

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2018 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Untitled
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2017-2018
Synthetic fabric, wood, black pigment, tint, honeycomb aluminum, polyester primer, Irwin black, natural light
Dimensions variable

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2017–18
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2017-2018 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2017-2018
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015
Light + Shadow + Reflection + Color
182.9 × 239.4 × 10.8 cm
72 × 94 1/4 × 4 1/4 inches

Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Sweet, Sweet, 2015
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Central Garden, 1997
Permanent installation at the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA
Upper Stream Garden Path – Double stands of sculpture squared London Plane trees, zig-zag path, stream with rock sculptures, shade garden with appropriate plants

Plaza – Stream ends at plaza with waterfall falling into pool of water, Rebar Steel Sculptures with bougainvillea

Lower Garden – body of water with 2 Floating Azalea mazes, 2 rings of Crepe Myrtle Trees, sun garden with multifaceted plant material
Dimensions variable

Robert Irwin
Central Garden, 1997
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997
Apertures cut into existing windows
Left: 61 × 76.2 cm
Center: 61 × 66 cm
Right: 61 × 76.2 cm
Overall Room: 292.1 × 812.8 × 561.3 cm
Left: 24 × 30 inches
Center: 24 × 26 inches
Right: 24 × 30 inches
Overall Room: 115 × 320 × 221 inches

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997 (detail)

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997 (detail)

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997 (detail)

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997 (detail)

Robert Irwin
1º 2 º 3 º 4º, 1997
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2011
Acrylic column
473.7 cm × 22.9 cm × 8.9 cm
186 1/2 × 9 × 3 1/2 inches

Robert Irwin
Untitled, 2011
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE – >< – / Dark Lead, 2016
Light + Shadow + Reflection + Color
182.9 × 43.8 × 11.7 cm
72 × 17 1/4 × 4 5/8 inches

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE - >< - / Dark Lead, 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE – >< – / Dark Lead, 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE - >< - / Dark Lead, 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE – >< – / Dark Lead, 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE - >< - / Dark Lead, 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE – >< – / Dark Lead, 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Dark Lead / 702 BE - >< - / Dark Lead, 2016
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007
115 fluorescent lights, one wall
689 × 1574.8 cm
271 1/4 × 620 inches

Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007 (detail)

Robert Irwin
Light and Space, 2007
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
Excursus: Homage to the Square³, 1998/2015
Synthetic fabric, paint, wood, flourescent light, polyester gels, and natural light

Robert Irwin
Excursus: Homage to the Square³, 1998/2015
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Permanent installation at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX
Horseshoe shaped building with double east/west entrances, windows throughout, white and black scrims, articulated outdoor/indoor light, basalt rock feature interior court garden, U-shaped stand of Palo Verde trees
Dimensions variable

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016 (detail)

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin, Lucky You, 2011. © Robert Irwin, courtesy of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation. Photo by Clare Britt.

Bright Golden Haze
Oklahoma Contemporary, Oklahoma City
Fall 2020–Winter 2020/21

In light of developments regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), exhibitions, events and talks are subject to change.

The exhibition, which takes its title from the first line in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s iconic musical Oklahoma!, will present a thematic grouping of new, recent and site-specific works by artists from around the world and in Oklahoma. Each provides a unique perspective on how environment, identity and perception are shaped through the medium of light, from traditional landscape images to immersive, technology-driven installations that rupture the boundaries between physical and digital realities.

Link
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers

Robert Irwin
January 23–April 21, 2018
Los Angeles

In the late 1960s, Robert Irwin shifted focus from creating traditional art objects to producing sculptures and installations that explore perception and the very conditions of art viewing. In keeping with his experimental approach to light, space, and the phenomenological experience of the viewer, the artist produced an immersive installation comprising an arrangement of scrims that responds directly to the architectural layout and visual qualities of Sprüth Magers’ modernist interior.

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Robert Irwin
Press

Robert Irwin’s Ambient Odyssey
The New York Times, review by Lawrence Weschler, February 13, 2020

Robert Irwin
Studio International, review by Hattie Nestor, March 23, 2018

At 89, Robert Irwin finds beauty in the benign
The Los Angeles Times, feature by Deborah Vankin, February 7, 2018

In Conversation with Robert Irwin
Surface, interview with Aileen Kwun, September 28, 2016

On Sight: The Hirshhorn’s Superb Robert Irwin Retrospective Sheds New Light on His Early Career
Art News, review by Phyllis Tuchman, August 25, 2016

Robert Irwin
Artforum, interview with Janelle Zara, July 19, 2016

Robert Irwin’s Big Visions, Barely Seen
The New York Times, feature by Randy Kennedy, January 1, 2016

Biography

Robert Irwin (*1928, Long Beach, CA) lives and works in San Diego, CA. Solo exhibitions include those at Pratt Institute School of Architecture (2019), University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach (2018), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2016), Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2010), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2007), Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1998), Musée d’art contemporain, Lyon (1998), Reina Sofía, Madrid (1995), Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1994), Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (1994), and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1993). Since the early 1970s, Irwin has created site-conditioned installations and major architectural and environmental installations at institutions worldwide, including most recently Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX (2016), Dia:Beacon (2015), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2013), Vienna Secession (2013), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010), and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2009).

Education
1948–50 Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles
1951 Jepson Art Institute, Los Angeles
1952–54 Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2016 Honoree, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art+Film Gala
2009 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, Charlottesville, VA
2007 Elected Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
2007 Artist-in-Residence, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
1992 Honorary Doctorate, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles
1984 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship
1979 Honorary Doctorate, San Francisco Art Institute
1976 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
1954 Chaloner Award
1954 James D. Phelan Award
Public Collections
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Anderson Collection Museum at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, University of California
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX
Cleveland Museum of Art
Dallas Museum of Art
Denver Art Museum
Des Moines Art Center
Dia Art Foundation, New York
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Ho-Am Art Museum, Seoul
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Musée d'Art Contemporain, Lyon
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA
Orange County Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA
Philadelphia Museum of Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Seattle Art Museum
Sentinel Plaza, Pasadena Police Department, Pasadena, CA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Stuart Collection, University of California, San Diego
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Detroit Institute of Arts
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT