Last Call: Robert Irwin at the Whitney, September 1
Robert Irwin, Scrim Veil-Black Rectangle-Natural Light,
Whitney Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1977
Among New York's art cognoscenti, the Summer of 2013 will be remembered as the "Summer of Space and Light" thanks to two exceptional exhibitions: Robert Irwin, Scrim Veil-Black Rectangle-Natural Light, Whitney Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1977 at the Whitney Museum (closing on September 1) and James Turrell at the Guggenheim Museum (closing on September 25). Although these artists were born 15 years apart (Irwin in 1928; Turrell in 1943), both responded to the visceral presentness of Abstract Expressionist by rejecting its materiality and choosing instead its ephemeral ingredients: real space and pure light.
Their work (along with Richard Serra's, Michael Heizer's and Michael Asher's) belongs to an ill-defined overlap of Minimalism and Post-Minimalism, wherein the simplicity of form interacts with the viewers' self-awareness in the presence of the artist's decisions. Space, scale and light play principal roles, rather than the flat canvas, the carved stone or the welded metal object. And yet, Irwin and Turrell are sculptors, shaping a specific environment through directing the source of light and the reception of light. Briefly stated: they are the Illuminators of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, bringing intellectual and spiritual enlightenment to a population of overstimulated, sentient creatures.
Irwin's Black Veil rewards a physical visit to the Whitney Museum's 5th Floor by confusing and surprising our visual perceptions as soon as we exit from the elevator or stairs. It takes a moment to grasp what is there and what may be an illusion. This disorientation is part of the thrill, which no photographs or videos can convey - not even close. The fact that a virtual encounter cannot achieve the real intent of the artist delights me. For it re-enforces the main objective of today's gallery or museum: being there and not here - online.
To learn more about Irwin's work, please view this short video:
And read the digital catalog, a reprint of the original 1977 catalog with an new introduction by Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Programs, Donna De Salvo.
(Stay tuned for another post on James Turrell in September.)