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Robert Irwin (born Sep 12, 1928) is an American Installation artist.


Robert Irwin was born in 1928 in Long Beach, California to Robert Irwin and Goldie Anderberg Irwin. Irwin began as a painter, whose art grew out of Abstract Expressionism. In post-World War II America the movement saw a flowering particularly in New York City with a group of artists loosely referred to as the New York School, and also at Black Mountain College with Robert Rauschenberg along with musician John Cage and dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham. Irwin’s installation works of the late 20th century are a strong example of an aesthetic that has its roots in abstraction with a direction that extends beyond it.


Influenced, in particular, by the paintings of John McLaughlin, Irwin and other Light and Space artists became curious about pushing the boundaries of art and perception, in the 1970s Robert Irwin left studio work to pursue installation art that dealt directly with light and space: the basis of visual perception, in both outdoor and modified interior sites. These installations allowed for an open exploration for artist and viewer of an altered experience created by manipulating the context of environment rather than remaining with the confines of an individual work of art. Other artists involved in the Light and Space movement include John McCracken, James Turrell, Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman and others.

In his book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Lawrence Weschler documents Irwin’s process from his early days as a youngster in Southern California to his emergence as a leader in the post-abstraction art world. Weschler describes the mystifying and often enchanting quality of these works in his book’s cover notes:

In May 1980, Robert Irwin returned to Market Street in Venice, California to the block where he’d kept a studio until 1970, the year he abandoned studio work altogether. Melinda Wyatt was opening a gallery in the building next door to his former work space and invited Irwin to create an installation.

He cleaned out the large rectangular room, adjusted the skylights, painted the walls an even white, and then knocked out the wall facing the street, replacing it with a sheer, semi-transparent white scrim. The room seemed to change its aspect with the passing day: people came and sat on the opposite curb, watching, sometimes for hours at time.

The piece was up for two weeks in one of the more derelict beachfront neighborhoods of Los Angeles: no one so much as laid a hand on it.

Because of the ephemeral or subtle nature of his work, this book became not just an introduction but, for many artists and art students, the primary way that Robert Irwin's work was experienced. He told Jori Finkel of the New York Times in 2007 that people still come up to him at lectures for book autographs. In that article, Michael Govan, the director of LACMA who previously commissioned Irwin to “design our experience” of Dia:Beacon" said he believes the book “has convinced more young people to become artists than the Velvet Underground has created rockers.” [1]

Irwin's 1983 work Two Running Violet V Forms is featured as part of the Stuart Collection of public artwork on the campus of the University of California, San Diego.

Irwin designed the Central Garden for the new Getty Center in Los Angeles. The 134,000-square-foot (12,400 m2) design features a natural ravine and tree-lined walkway that leads the visitor through an experience of sights, sounds, and scents. He selected everything in the garden to accentuate the interplay of light, color, and reflection. Planning began in 1992, as a key part of the Getty Center project. Since the Center opened in 1997, the Central Garden has evolved as its plants have grown. Irwin's statement, "Always changing, never twice the same," is carved into the plaza floor, reminding visitors of the ever-changing nature of this living work of art.

Robert Irwin is represented by The Pace Gallery, New York.


* Lawrence Weschler. Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees. University of California Press; 1982.

* Jori Finkel. "Artist of Space, LIght, and Now Trees," The New York Times. October 24, 2007.

From Wikipedia. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


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