White Cube Bermondsey is currently playing home to a slight, albeit impressive exhibition by Robert Irwin, taking the artist’s interest in environmental sculpture, space and light to arguably its most minimal conclusions. Taking up two rooms at the London Gallery, the exhibition continues Irwin’s exploration of objects in space, and their relationships to the site in which they reside.
The exhibition is spread across three of the artist’s series-based works. In the North Galleries, one can view a set of the artist’s immediately recognizable neon tube works, gently glowing lights covered in different geometric patterns by light gels that diffuse or block the glow in different proportions and shades, giving a complex set of hues to the surrounding walls. One room over, a black lacquer diptych, appropriately titled Black Painting, trots out a similar, and quite familiar exercise in environmental phenomena, so thickly coated in gloss that the surrounding space is reflected clearly on its surface. Taken here, the work seems almost as if it was intended as a historical touchstone, reminding viewers of the deep history of experiential color-field paintings from Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman, and other Irwin Light and Space contemporaries. Yet here, taken as the sole presence in the space, the work also explores a certain architectural element of White Cube, mirroring the converging walls and ceiling in a dull gray, and illustrating the viewer ensconced within this blank plane.
One room over is the show’s most spare work, a pair of transparent tubes springing up from the floor. While little seems to attract attention to the work, what’s perhaps most interesting about the piece’s minimal intrusions is its transformative potential on the surrounding space. Considering the artist’s own creative and material history, his transparent works here appear as empty signifiers, pointing at his core formal elements while robbing them of any distinguishing characteristics. In turn, the surrounding architectural structures, including the glossy surface of the door adjacent the work, and the neon lights streaming overhead become focal points, pulling attention back and forth from element to element.
For its deep history, Irwin’s work seems somewhat daring here, particularly in the 9x9x9 gallery, where the act of spatial interaction and minimalism is taken to a point of almost total nakedness and exposure. There is little to view in the work, and the artist seems content to keep it that way, relying on the viewer to do most of the heavy lifting. Even so, his works in the adjacent galleries seem to offer something of a signpost for the piece, and given the proper time spent with the exhibition, Irwin’s most minimal exercises also carry some of the strongest perceptual pay-off.
2 x 2 x 2 x 2 is on view through November 15th.
— D. Creahan
Robert Irwin: 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 [Exhibition Site]