For over 60 years, Robert Irwin has explored perception as the fundamental issue of art. Irwin, who began his career as a painter in the ‘50s and became a pioneer of the “Light and Space” movement in the ‘60s, has, through a continual breaking down of the frame, come to regard the role of art as “conditional”, working within and responding to the specific surrounding world of experience.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Sprüth Magers Gallery Archive
Irwin has continued to push the boundaries of artistic practice into the 21st Century through installations precisely conditioned to the sites they occupy, both inside and outside the walls of cultural institutions. A solo exhibition with works by Robert Irwin is on presentation at Sprüth Magers Gallery in Los Angeles. The artist has produced an immersive installation comprising an arrangement of scrims that responds directly to the architectural layout and visual qualities of the space. Irwin has used scrim since the early 1970s as a means to alter viewers’ experience of their environment; by stretching it to create new interior walls and pathways, he deploys a simple material to shift space in radical ways. The gallery’s interior walls have been removed, exposing the large windows that surround the 470-square-meter exhibition space for the first time since the gallery opened in 2016. Inside this glass box, slender pillars are placed along the building’s architectural grid and around its central load- bearing column. Irwin’s semitransparent white scrim connects several of the pillars to form impenetrable, but see-through, chambers that reach to the ceiling. If Irwin’s scrims are understood as a vertical axis, a series of black squares cuts through them along a horizontal one, via tinted squares on the gallery’s windows, square spray-painted atop the scrims, and a row of square black paintings lining one remaining gallery wall. These recurring shapes create visual sight lines that link interior and exterior. On the gallery’s second level, several of the dynamics at play on the floor below are inverted. Newly constructed walls block out most of the room’s windows, and surrounding a central wall of black scrim, four of Irwin’s fluorescent light sculptures emanate shades of reds, pale greens and yellows, and soft whites. Irwin constructs these works using rows of vertical neon tubes, tinting them using theatrical gels, electrical tape and spray paint, and lining their colors into symmetrical patterns. The artist’s evocative titles like: “Faust” and “Misty Miss Christy”, add an additional hint of narrative potential to the sculptures’ otherwise minimalist, industrial forms. Visible only in natural light, during daylight hours, the exhibition at Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, highlights Robert Irwin’s long-standing investigations into the subtle, yet significant ways in which the spaces we navigate affect our understanding of and relationship to the world around us.
Info: Sprüth Magers Gallery, 5900 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Duration: 23/1-21/4/18, Days & Hours: Tue-Sat 10:00-16:00, www.spruethmagers.com