This is not light that I am seeing.
Arranged in the Los Angeles Sprüth Magers gallery, works by Robert Irwin call for more than just a superficial observation. The American artist goes far beyond the two tall standing sets of fluorescent lights and scrim veils.
Southern California has always been rooted in Irwin’s art. He always considered himself as an abstract expressionist painter at first, but after a few failed attempts, he freed his concept; bringing space itself to the fore.
Along with James Turrell, Larry Bell, De Wain Valentine, Doug Wheeler and others, he founded the Light and Space movement in the 1960’s in response to minimalism’s continuous dominance. Richard Serra or Donald Judd, pillars of the movement, focused on grandiose or repeated assemblage of geometric fabrications.
Light and Space artists embraced minimalism deeper than it had existed. Op art, minimalism, and geometric abstractions were their essence while light and spatial awareness, their messengers.
To align with Irwin’s methodology of centering his art in an altered space, Sprüth Magers removed its interior walls, allowing natural light to filter into the temporary glass “box”.
On the ground floor, the surrounding large windows allow the translucent white scrims to entwine.
Black squares, as well as other lacquered shapes hung on the wall, are geometrically inscribed within those scrims facing one another.
Irwin’s fascination for architecture reaches new levels when other individuals are involved. Once again, the space is not contrived to host the work of art but rather becomes an inherent fragment of the space.
No light – no viewing. Without enough luminosity, contrast between scrims and squares lacks and we are left alone in darkness.
More than feelings and self-introspection, Irwin’s work catches viewers’ perceptions: the subject of their observations, the way they move in accordance to the light, their position in relation to the materials.
The gallery’s first floor offers a landscape of tubular flashy coloured lights, erected in the same space as a darker scrim. The possibilities are endless: the fluorescent lights can be observed in isolation or as part of the scrim.
We, as the viewer, as mobile as we are, can be part of it, or excluded from it .
How do lights reflect on the glass windows and coalesce with the LACMA in the background? Where are we observing the room from? Are we integrating with all the materials comprised on this floor?
The polished environment thanks to the lacquered floors are another reflective element on which the lights bounce back, creating t a mirror effect while the penetrating natural light adds contrast to the hues.
There is not one day, one hour or one perfect minute to contemplate Irwin’s scenery. I could come back another day and witness the entire exhibition completely differently.
Light and Space offers variants which are rare to experience. It does take a minute to adjust to the moment and familiarise myself with the external factors at play in Irwin’s work. Once my mind has acknowledged the immensity of the piece, there is a real freeing joy in arbitrarily following my own intuition.
Robert Irwin at Sprüth Magers (23 January – 21 April 2018)