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FROM THIS EPISODE

One of the key figures of the phenomenological art movement that emerged in L.A. of 1960s was Robert Irwin. Now 89 years old, he is the subject of two exhibitions, a literally brilliant site- specific installation at Sprüth Magers Gallery in the mid- Wilshire district, and a historical overview at Cal State University Long Beach.

It doesn’t take long to check out most art shows these days. Jpeg-oriented, many are designed to look good on Instagram. It is rare to encounter a project that makes you stop. If you don’t stop, you don’t get it. And you want to get it.

This particular gallery is in a mid-1960s highrise designed by the modernist architect William Pereira, who also designed LACMA across the street. The gallery was renovated in 2016 by the Berlin-based but internationally known dealers. (The design won an award from Wallpaper* magazine.) To accomodate their art exhibitions, the owners had to place wall panels across the interior large windows on the front of the building.

Irwin, however, did not want those windows covered. Per his instructions, the dealers removed the panels to let the north light flow through the interior.


Robert Irwin Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, January 23 - April 21, 2018 Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Photo: Robert Wedemeyer 

Irwin restructured the space according to his own needs. Vertical white pillars were installed within the perimeter of the space to support semi-transparent sheets of white scrim. It looks as though a tall white box has been placed in the center of the room. After a few minutes, however, you realize that what initially looked solid is not.


Robert Irwin Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, January 23 - April 21, 2018 Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Photo: Robert Wedemeyer 

Irwin began using scrim in the early 1970s. A flexible fabric that can be stretched across a large surface, it is appears opaque at some angles and translucent at others. He recognized it as an ideal material with which to explore his interests in dematerialization.


Robert Irwin Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, January 23 - April 21, 2018 Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Photo: Robert Wedemeyer 

The space is divided into a series of rectangular scrim boxes with dark squares punctuating the pristine surfaces. A single shadowy square opens to a mysterious square behind it. Shapes are repeated within and without the space so you look at and through the art, which smartly reinforces the best aspects of the original architecture. The installation is only open during daylight hours, from 10 am to 4 p.m. and looks dramatically different with shifts in illumination.


Robert Irwin Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, January 23 - April 21, 2018 Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

The second floor galleries are darkened to accomodate Irwin’s wall sculptures made of fluorescent tubes. Vertically aligned in various colors, they glow in a gallery divided by black scrim stretched across a black wood frame. It is a perfect complement, from the celestial to the pneumbral, day to night.

The show continues through April 21.

Architecture has been a throughline of Irwin’s work for nearly half a century. To demonstrate the extent and history of his involvement, the University Art Museum at Cal State University Long Beach presents Robert Irwin: Site Determined. In 1975, Irwin completed Window Wall on that campus, which itself was designed by modernist architect Ed Killingsworth. The wall, commissioned by then museum director Constance Glenn, has a horizontal opening to frame a view to discerning passersby. It is a defining work by the artist and is in the process of being conserved for the future.



The exhibition was organized by Dr. Matthew Simms, a scholar of Irwin’s work. Simms has brought together models and drawings to demonstrate how the artist has worked over the years in response to the physical and natural conditions of any particular site including his rigorous light-filled installation in Marfa, Texas, commissioned by the Chinati Foundation established by the late Minimalist Donald Judd. The show also documents Irwin’s parallel interest in landscape design including the gardens at the Getty and LACMA.


Robert Irwin. Marfa Color Plan (2002). color pencil on Mylar. Sheet: 30 x 42 inches (76.2 x 106.7 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Promised gift of L.J. Cella. Photograph: Pablo Mason © 2018 Robert Irwin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dr. Simms will talk about Irwin and the exhibition next Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the University Art Museum’s Main Gallery.

The exhibition continues through April 15.

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