The work of Robert Irwin (Long Beach, California, 1928) can be defined as the transition from richly textured gestural paintings to the exploration of the limits between art and perception. This retrospective exhibition sets forth an analysis of the route he has taken, with the artist himself dismissing links to Expressionism, Minimal Art, architecture and urbanism.
After being educated in Los Angeles, his first pieces, dating back to the end of the Fifties, are shaped by American modernity and Abstract Expressionism and contain certain references to not only Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston, but also the theoretical approach of the painter and writer Ad Reinhardt.
Following certain divergent stages in which his pictorial language, the size of the canvas and his ideas undergo significant changes, from 1962-1963 onwards light, colour and perception form the core part of his experiments with space through the use of different materials. The aim is to offer the viewer a reconsideration of place with the awareness that their experience is both subjective and conditioned, thus his artistic theory is based the studies of phenomenology.
His early paintings exemplify a field of experimentation that subsequently eradicates what the artist considers superfluous, for instance the themes, the figure-ground dichotomy and the expression, to reach the consideration of painting as an object. The transition towards his installations and light and space projects can be found in the cycles of monochromes intersected by faint horizontal lines, visible in works such as The Four Blues (1961). Furthermore, this transformation is substantiated by: the line (defined by the art critic and curator, Enrique Juncosa, as “a sign with less literal associations”), his aluminium acrylic discs projecting out of the canvas (1967-1969) and his acrylic columns, perceptible only by the refracting light as they blend into the background.
During the Seventies Irwin's work starts to focus on Site-generated projects, such as those classified by the professor and art critic Arthur C. Danto as, “works that are so intimate with the generated environment that independence is impossible”, as opposed to Site-specific.
This modus operandi is also represented in the exhibition through a considerable amount of documentation - photographs, maps, diagrams and drawings that reflect both ephemeral installations (Nine Spaces, Nine Trees, Public Safety Building Plaza, Seattle, 1983) and architectural and public space sculptures (Portal Park Slice, John W. Carpenter Park, Dallas, 1980) as well as “conditional” projects such as Art Enrichment Master Plan, Miami International Airport (1986). The exhibition also includes light and space works on the ground floor of the museum and a special piece in the entrance called Spanish Fan.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (June 20 - August 15, 1993); Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (April 10 - June 12, 1994); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (July 9 - October 16, 1994)