Robert Irwin 1928-Present
Works: Los Angeles, NY, United States
Robert Irwin has been one of the pivotal artists in American Art for more than 30 years both as a practitioner and a theoretician. Irwin began his career as an abstract expressionist; however, by the late 1960′s he had moved away from painting to become one of the creators of the art of light and space, using ephemeral materials such as scrim, lighting and orientation to alter and heighten the viewers perception of the space in which they encountered his work. Since the early 80′s Irwin has won an international =reputation for his “site-generated” work in public spaces which often make intimate use of natural elements, plantings and topographic features.
Robert Irwin was born in 1928 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he attended Dorsey High School. He received his art education at Otis Art Institute, Jepsons Art Institute and Chouinards Art Institute (1948-1954). Later, Mr. Irwin taught at Chouinards (1957-58), University of California, Los Angeles (1962), and in 1968-69, he developed the graduate program at the University of California, Irvine.
Beginning in 1970 (with the end of his practice as a studio artist), Irwin’s method of teaching became exclusively in response, developing a peripatetic form of accepting invitations to lecture or participate in seminars and symposia in the art, architecture, philosophy and perceptual psychology departments of over 150 universities in 46 states. Along the way Robert Irwin has been the John J. Hill professor at the University of Minnesota (1981); the J. Paul Getty lecturer at the University of Southern California (1986); the Cullinan professor at Rice University (1987-88); the Andrew Ritchie lecturer at Yale University (1988); and the Yaseen lecturer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1990).
In the early years following art school (1958-68) Irwin practiced as a painter, a period marked by a series of radical reductions in the “highly stylized learned logic of pictorial reality.” Today these paintings are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. In 1970 Irwin broke with painting and embarked on an extended inquiry of an art outside the traditional frame and object; working by invitation in existing spaces, Irwin created a series of ephemeral interventions now referred to as the distinctly west coast art of light and space. These works were created in such places as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and The Pace Gallery, New York. A facet of this work continues to be present with more recent installations (1994-95) at the Muse d’ Art Moderne de la Ville, Paris; Klinscher Kunstverein, Cologne; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa, Madrid. Since the 1980′s Irwin’s continued questioning for the “pure subject of art” has carried him to an inquiry of the actual role of art in the light of a radical “modern” art history. This exploration has resulted in “real” world “site-generated-conditional art” proposals and projects in public places such as the Old Post Office Atrium, Washington, D.C.; Stuart Collection, University of California, San Diego; a case study Arts Enrichment Master Plan; Miami International Airport; and his most recent project, the Central Gardens of the new J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles.
Among the writings and books Mr. Irwin has published are: Rober Irwin Notes towards A model (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1977); Being and Circumstance: Notes Toward a Conditional Art (Lapis Press, San Francisco, 1985); The Hidden Structures of Art (The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Rozzoli International Publications, New York, 1993). A biography Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees By Lawrence Weschler was published by the University of California Press in 1982.
Robert Irwin has received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship Award along the way.