Los Angeles

Robert Irwin

The Artist’s Premises

Robert Irwin’s exhibition, like the shows reported above, indicates a change in the Los Angeles art situation: an internationally known local artist chooses to show his new sculpture in his own untitled premises outside the gallery establishment. This seems to me not a repudiation of the galleries but simply another stone in another art scene, outside the galleries.

Irwin’s new work consists of two identical columns, each about 12 feet tall, fashioned (and that is the right word) from clear acrylic plastic. The pieces are a little less than a foot wide, a few inches deep and resemble in cross-section a fattened Cadillac “V” with the exterior center point blunted into a plane about an inch wide. Facing in the same direction as the point of the “V,” one sees vertical bands of varying opacity and some slight prismatic effects. Looking head-on into the point of the “V,” the colors (depending on what else is in the clean white room at the time) sort themselves into vertical, halated hierarchies; from the flanks, the sides of the “V,” the object almost disappears, save for a few floating milky splinters. And this is where, I suppose, the work plugs into earlier concerns—the “white” convex paintings, the opaque and clear discs, etc. Moreover, the work is free-standing, not frontal, proving that Irwin’s visual territory, a kind of elegant phenomenology, transcends traditional separations of painting and sculpture. What is missing, however (and strangely), is the bit of imperfection, of tackiness (e.g. the four light bulbs necessary to the discs) which denoted a philosophical process; the new work is a little too pat, too airtight, something like a Johannsen block or a chrome ball-bearing. Jules Olitski has wished for a way to spray paintings into the air; Irwin has dematerialized object-hood, turned it into a pure collation of discrete, and shifting, phenomena. But there is no way back, no way for the air to reform itself into anything but the faultless R and D symmetry, no way for it to be more than optically interesting.

Peter Plagens