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Robert Irwin Recreates Ethereal Scrim Piece First Shown at the Opening of the Walker Art Center
Robert Irwin, Untitled, 1971. Synthetic fabric, wood, fluorescent lights, floodlights, 96 X 564 in. Collection Walker Art Center. Gift of the artist, 1971.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- A powerful and ethereal site-specific installation by Robert Irwin—an oblique plane of translucent scrim fabric— will be on view August 6, 2009 (from 5–9 pm)–November 21, 2010, in the Walker Art Center exhibition Robert Irwin: Slant/Light/Volume, organized by curator Elizabeth Carpenter with the full cooperation of the artist. Commissioned by the Walker in 1971 for Works for New Spaces, the inaugural exhibition of its Edward Larrabee Barnes-designed building, the untitled work will be reconfigured for a new audience in a gallery with a slightly higher ceiling than the original space in which it premiered. By lowering the coffers in Friedman Gallery, the dimensions for the original work, which is 15 feet high, has a span of approximately 48 feet across, and slants at an almost 45-degree angle, will remain exactly the same. The piece has not been on view since 1989.

For 50 years, Robert Irwin has been a pivotal influence in contemporary art as an artist, theoretician, and teacher. His mid-1960s transformative pieces helped to define the aesthetics and conceptual issues of the West Coast Light and Space movement (as did the work of fellow artist James Turrell also in the Walker’s collection) by exploring how phenomena are perceived and altered by consciousness. Irwin orchestrates the act of perception. His seemingly simple architectural interventions are philosophically rich exercises in the physical, sensory and temporal experience of space. Throughout the 1970s, he repeatedly worked with translucent scrim, a fabric routinely used in theatrical stage productions. Appearing opaque unless lit from behind, this material is often used to situate actions taking place in the foreground and background; to metaphorically frame the action in the past and present, or to distinguish realms of consciousness versus dream-states. In Irwin’s hands, scrim becomes a formally divisive yet supremely gentle and ethereal (dare one say spiritual?) agent of transformation. This almost anti-sculptural material objectifies light and space, creating volume from both of these intangibles.

The Walker’s exhibition will contain a single, untitled work of art which Irwin’s preparatory drawings and notes refer to as Slant/Light/Volume. Site-specificity, a core tenet of the artist’s practice, has been both a dream and a curse. “All those things that I did in the ‘70s, basically no one’s ever seen them,” he once remarked. “I exist as some myth, which is the worst thing I could be, because I’m talking about reality, not myths. If you can’t experience the works they have no meaning.”

Irwin is cognizant of the paradox in making short-lived artworks that rely on the visitor’s physical presence and perception to complete them—but for him, it’s a necessary one: “From a phenomenological viewpoint, to make the observers necessary to complete the quality quotient of art is probably the most human, the most emotional, the most sensory thing to do.”

Walker Art Center | Robert Irwin | Elizabeth Carpenter | James Turrell | Minneapolis |  |

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