White Cube presents an exhibition by Robert Irwin, one of the pivotal figures in recent American art. Irwin’s oeuvre has spanned more than 50 years and includes painting, sculpture, installation and large-scale architectural projects. Minimal and perceptual, his works attempt to highlight particular spatial situations, acting like brackets for our phenomenological experience. This exhibition brings together three groups of sculptures, including fluorescent works and transparent, acrylic columns.
Since the 1970s, Irwin has used light and subtle alterations of space to refocus the habituated eye, encouraging an awareness of the visual field around us. He has said that ‘the pure subject of art is human perception’: a conditional activity determined by context. In the ‘cuts’, Irwin creates a sequential experience of colour for the viewer, with a series of long, coloured fluorescent tubes placed on the wall in horizontal lines. Each measuring 7 by 8 feet, the coloured tubes are repeated or alternated to create variable patterns, like a dynamic painting that urges the eye to shift around its perimeter in order to understand the impact of form, balance and tonal colour. While the form and industrial materials of these sculptures owe much to Minimalism, their charged and experiential use of colour recalls not only the work of Josef Albers but also the abstract expressionist painting of Barnett Newman.
A similar effect of concentrated zones of colour is created with the ‘Fourfold’ works which use four fluorescent tubes each measuring 6 by 8 feet, placed close together in vertical lines. Using only two colours, different tonal effects are created through simple combinations of doubling or alternating the tubes. The fourfold sculptures in this exhibition have a zone of grey-white in the middle with a pale blue bulb on either side, creating a sense of movement and a subtle shift in tone and register from left to right as the viewer encounters the work.
Two acrylic columns which connect floor to ceiling in the 9 x 9 x 9 gallery articulate both the height and volume of the architectural space. Irwin began making these works as early as 1971, with lengths of acrylic joined imperceptibly together. While almost invisible under certain light conditions they both obstruct and frame their surroundings, through a minimal interruption of its internal space. Irwin has said that the columns ‘sit on a delicate edge’, creating conditions where ‘you don’t think about whether it’s art or not art. It’s just about what you’re seeing or not seeing.’
Robert Irwin was born in 1928 Long Beach, CA and lives and works in La Jolla CA. He has exhibited in many museums internationally since 1960 including Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; MCA Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebaek and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Wiener Secession, Association of Visual Artists, Vienna (2013); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2010) and MCA San Diego (2007–08). He was the first artist to receive the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award, in 1984.
Robert Irwin – White Cube – 23 September to 15 November 2015