Friday, December 16, 2016

Robert Irwin @ Hirshhorn Museum

Here is my belated review of the Robert Irwin exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum titled All The Rules Will Change (April 7 to September 5, 2016). The show chronicled Irwin's early years and his rapid shift away from abstract expressionist paintings to ground breaking work that is entirely original in its efforts to break down the barriers between art and everything else. With many of his pieces he is so successful it is difficult to distinguish where the art ends, in fact that is the point, there is no boundary.
Title Wall
One of the first series of work in the show are some of Irwin's "Pick Up Stick" paintings. They are designed with the children's game in mind. I believe there were three on view, all with yellow backgrounds and different colored over-lapping lines.
Ocean Park
oil on canvas
Between 1961 and 1964, Irwin worked on a series of much more minimal, much cleaner Line Paintings.
Jake Leg
oil on canvas
Jake Leg (closeup)
The late line paintings became even more subtle, with Irwin painting only a couple of horizontal lines in the same hue as the background, making them difficult to distinguish background from foreground, and making it difficult to photograph as well.
oil on canvas
Overlapping a bit, chronologically, were Irwin's Dot Paintings. These went even further in obliterating boundaries by creating the sense of light on canvas rather than paintings. They were a major step in his effort to create a painting without painting. Though he used paint on them, they created the sense that he did not.
Untitled 1963-65
oil on canvas
These are, again, very difficult to photograph as the lens doesn't know what to focus on.
 Untitled 1963-65 (closeup)
My favorite work in the show were the two disks, below, that represented work from his disk period, 1966-69. They are very disorienting in a way similar to Anish Kapoor's work. Looking at them from the front left me with complete confusion as to what I was looking at. The intent, and its realization, is to break down the boundary between the artwork and the surrounding environment. By fabricating a mysterious object and lighting it in a precisely designed way, he is able to create a situation in which the object, the lighting, and the wall have equal importance to the work of art.
acrylic paint on shaped aluminum
Only from the side you can figure out what you are looking at.
 Untitled (second view)
Untitled (1969) is equally mysterious and it is even more successful in blurring the line between where the object ends and the wall begins.
acrylic paint on shaped acrylic
Untitled (second view)
 Untitled (third view)
The final piece in the exhibit was a piece made specifically for this exhibit. Conceptually, it gives the impression of being a square that encompasses the inner circle of the museum. There was a warning before entering the section that the work can be disorienting for the viewer which creates an atmosphere of anticipation followed by disappointment or confusion when one enters the section and one is unable to determine what the art is or even where it is. Ultimately, the work isn't just the object but also a dynamic created by the mind of the viewer, the object (or lack thereof), and the intent of the artist.
Square the Circle
fabric on wood
I found the video interview of Irwin at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from 1973 very interesting if only to get a sense of how he thinks and talks. He is very articulate in describing his highly abstract concepts. One thing I remember him saying is that there is no relationship between why he became an artist and what he was doing at the time (and I'm sure even more so now). He started on one path but it ended up leading somewhere he could not possibly have predicted.
Video Interview Still
Los Angeles Country Museum of Art
Before this exhibit, I hadn't been very familiar with Irwin's work. I had seen an installation of his at Dia:Beacon a few months earlier but I don't recall another occasion of seeing his art. 
Excursive: Homage to the Square3
@ Dia-Beacon
Consequently, I found the show to be a great opportunity to learn more about this unique and influential artist. The Hirshhorn did an excellent job in pulling off an exhibit of an exceptionally difficult conceptual artist to display.

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