Few artists have left such a remarkable imprint on the art and art history of Southern California in the way that Robert Irwin has done over the past 50-plus years. Pioneering a mode of practice that slowly but deliberately broke ranks with the painterly abstraction and object-based practice of the era to develop a mode of art-making that embraced light, form and space as free-floating, conceptual tools. As a native Californian, Irwin’s work drew heavily from his experience of its delicate nuances in light and tone, the massive expanses of the California desert, evolving into complex geometric arrangements of space using scrim and paint to create shiting densities of light.
The artist’s current show at Sprüth Magers is of particular note for just that reason, marking his first solo exhibition with the gallery in his home region, and one that feels like a particular return to the artist’s roots. Inside the gallery, the interior walls have been removed, exposing the large windows that surround exhibition space for the first time since its 2016 opening. Inside, slender pillars are placed along the building’s architectural grid and around its central load- bearing column. Irwin’s semitransparent white scrim connects several of the pillars to form impenetrable, but see-through, chambers that reach to the ceiling. The works hung around the perimeter of the space, as well as the marks made on the scrim itself create a series of interlocking geometric planes, tracing the viewer’s movement through and about the room in conjunction with the blocks of color, and even the movements of cars and people outside the space. The bustle of cars and pedestrians along Wilshire Boulevard, visible through the tinted glass, leaves delicate patterns and marks on the scrim that introduce additional spatial nuance to the work.
The show also includes a series of Irwin’s painted neon light arrangements, vertical tubes of light covered over in symmetrical arrangements of spray paint and theatrical gels, creating patterns of light that create their own interpretations of rhythm and movement through their shifting color forms. These works, where the tints and shades of each light are balanced against each other, and against the space itself, exemplifies Irwin’s nuanced practice, creating spaces that are as involved in the process of perception as the works themselves. Exploring the impact of these various spaces, Irwin creates something of dual inversions, exploring the impacts of objects on space and vice versa throughout the show. It’s a striking concept, and one that underscores his mastery of a unique artistic language. Presented here in his native Southern California, the show is a fitting summation of Irwin’s most notable themes, presented in a site where his inspiration is all the more visible from the moment you step outside.
The show is on view through April 21st.
— D. Creahan
Robert Irwin at Sprüth Magers [Sprüth Magers]