New York

Robert Irwin

Pace | 32 East 57th Street

Robert Irwin’s show consisted of a 55’-long (the length of the gallery) approximately 6’-high “barricade” or semi-wall if you will (3/5 the height of the gallery—all measurements are approximate) that divided the gallery space in half. It was painted white as is the gallery, and was devoid of any inherent trace or image of reality other than its entrenchment as wall-barricade in this space.

No title or forewarning was given that this was “it.” People walked in, people walked out—a shame because the piece and we were capable, through an extreme investment, of generating a great deal of interest. I said, “the piece and we were capable,” since the artist alone was surely capable of merely generating a wall.

Robert Irwin seemed in this piece to be more interested in humiliating the public (as he would have noticed could he have seen the effect of this piece on the viewers) than in informing us that in positing and positioning this wall it had set up a mysterious relationship to the viewer and to the room.

I suppose that this kind of “mute,” “radical” attitude confirms his avant-gardism.

There seems to be a boredom that is extrapolated onto Irwin’s confrontation with his art and his audience. The salvaging of this kind of relationship is rendered more difficult—sometimes impossible—by ipseity that ignores anyone or anything. Witness Irwin: “What I am doing is trying to find out more about what it is that I sense. When I am interested in that direct (temporary) social contribution, I will confront the questions of ‘How do I communicate?’ . . . My question is ‘How do I now order my thoughts for myself?’” (Arts, September/October, 1972).

Well, when one is intent on seeing art survive, even artists can’t get in the way.

Irwin’s “barricade” was lit from both sides (from the ceiling) by three sets of three lights (from “behind”) and by one set of four and two sets of three (from the “front”)—more on this notion of behind and front later on. The “extra” light in front lit the left-hand corner of the room to counterbalance the door that opens and shuts (in everyday gallery use) at the right-hand corner of the room. The “wall” cast shadows on the walls of the gallery that formed triangles with the floor and “wall” by which one could measure the floor in a proportion of approximately four to five whereas the “wall” was approximately in a proportion of three to five to the ceiling.

This nonphysical triangle (three) generated a four to five proportion on a rectangular floor (four perimeters), 3–4–4.

The physical rectangle (four perimeters of the “wall”) generated a three to five proportion by means of a three-dimensional form, 4–3–3.

The essence of opposition seemed inherent in this piece. The piece divided the floor and, surprisingly, the ceiling in half by casting a shadow-band above itself onto the ceiling, thereby dividing the ceiling in half also.

One’s reaction after the ingestion of this information might be condensed in these lines from Ulysses, “I am the boy That can enjoy Invisibility.”

Determined to adopt this piece, since it had just been left standing there by its maker, I asked to be permitted to “see” the other side. My request was put through “channels” and I was granted access to the other side. I gained my way through storerooms, offices, and corridors not part of the gallery proper and I entered the other side and saw the “wall” as the same, but my thinking about it had changed. This side was enclosed (except for the door by which I entered). The other side was open to elevators, spiral stairwell, air conditioner vents, air shafts, noise etc. This side strangely enough, was quieter and untouched by the environs of the gallery. As I approached the “wall” I saw less of the other side and heard more of the other side. As I retreated from the “wall” I saw more of the other side and heard less of the other side—inverse ratios.

The main problem with this piece was that it was all about “seeing” and “thinking,” to the loss of any real emotional involvement with it or to it. An extreme amount of investment was necessary, and the heartfelt dividends were minimal. The piece therefore was just one step from involving us completely. Maybe a title or a statement might have done it. As it was, the piece belonged to anyone who wanted it for as long as it was up. The sole reason for this exegesis is to convince anyone who has seen it that after all there was something there other than a wall, despite an insipid presentation.

—Francis Naumann