Robert Irwin (born Sep 12,
1928) is an American Installation artist.
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
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.
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
, 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.
In his book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One
, Lawrence Weschler
documents Irwin’s process from his early days as a youngster in
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.” 
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.
designed the Central Garden for the new Getty Center in Los Angeles.
The 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
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.
- 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.
- President's lecture: Irwin lecture at Rice
University in 2000
- UCSD Russell Lecturer: Robert Irwin lecture at
MCASD La Jolla (2008)
- "Artist of Space, Light and Now Trees" by Jori Finkel.
New York Times article of October 24, 2007
- Daily Gusto review of Weschler's bio of Robert
- Robert Irwin papers, 1970-2003. Research Library at the Getty Research
Institute. Los Angeles, California.The Robert Irwin papers
are composed of correspondence, personal writings, clippings, and
audio and visual tapes, as well as project files, photographs,
drawings and models pertaining to his light and space and
environmental works. The material dates from 1970, the year he sold
the contents of his Venice, California studio, to 1996.