Visual Art Time for Irwin, Part I
posted by April 2 at 10:31 AMon
Every morning, I think, “This should be the day. I should write about the Robert Irwin show today.”
So I’m going to do it a little bit at a time, starting now, and for however many days it takes.
In the first place, it should be known that I’m a sucker for Irwin. I think I’m still in the place on the feedback loop where I like him because of what he’s done, not where I like what he’s done because I like him, but I can squarely be called a fan. I’m not sure whether that amounts to a caveat or not.
Irwin is not only a terrific and important artist, he also, as Tyler Green pointed out, seems to inspire exceptional writing. Last year, I called Lawrence Wechsler’s classic 1982 book about Irwin, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, the best book about art I’ve ever read. Specifically, Irwin inspires clarity. I’ll do my best.
First, the basics. If you had to boil down Irwin’s accomplishment into a single sentence, you could say he dissolved the border between the art object and its environment. It wasn’t an academic exercise. He did it to upset the hierarchy of which things in the world we pay attention to, and which things we ignore. His career can be considered a social project. But it never feels like a social project. Let me explain what I mean.
Here’s where we start: In 1960, with Irwin piling paint on canvas, pushing it into the center of the picture. That was where the eye went. Not so different from any other painter. Things were about to seriously change.
Coming up: The blatant but largely unobserved flaw in the show’s centerpiece, why the bad lighting on one of Irwin’s paintings is perfect, why I’m glad the glass column in the show was knocked over and broken during the first weeks of the show, and what’s up with Irwin in Seattle right now.