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The Whitney presents large scale installation by Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin, Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1977).

NEW YORK, NY.- This summer, the Whitney will reinstall Scrim veil-Black rectangle-Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the large-scale work that Robert Irwin (b. 1928) created specifically for the fourth floor of the Museum in 1977. On view from June 27 to September 1, this will be the first presentation of the work since its initial installation more than 35 years ago.

In the work, a semi-translucent white scrim, weighted by a black metal bar, hangs from the ceiling to five and half feet above the floor and runs from east to west across the 117-foot-long room. At the same exact height as the bar, a thin black line is painted around the gallery walls. The gallery’s Madison Avenue window is the only light source. Together, the diffused light, scrim, and black lines activate the environment and manipulate viewers’ perception of the Museum’s Emily Fisher Landau Gallery. Photographs and drawings related to Scrim veil-Black rectangle-Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York will be on display in another fourth-floor gallery.

In his biography of Irwin, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Lawrence Weschler wrote of his experience viewing the installation, “the room itself seemed to stand up and hum. Things that had always been there—the even modular hive of the ceiling; the dark, rectangular grid of the floor—you noticed as if for the first time.”

Irwin has called the Whitney’s 1977 exhibition pivotal in his career, as it set the course for his subsequent practice. While preparing for the exhibition, he distilled his aesthetic and philosophical ideas into the essay, “Notes on a Model,” which was included in the accompanying catalogue. In the text, he theorized that perception is key to human understanding, proposing that art should be conditional to its surroundings and enhance a viewer’s perceptual experience.

“Questions about the act of perceiving are as relevant today as they were when Robert Irwin first presented this exceptional installation at the Whitney. Irwin’s work offers something profound that cannot be easily and quickly consumed. Rather, it invites and rewards total and unequivocal immersion,” says Whitney Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs Donna De Salvo, who will oversee the installation. “The opportunity to see this work in the museum’s Breuer building, prior to the Whitney’s move downtown in 2015, and in summer light, is not to be missed.”

A native of Long Beach, California, Robert Irwin studied at the Otis Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design) and the Chouinard Art Institute, which was later incorporated to form the California Institute of the Arts. In 1958, along with Billy Al Bengston, Craig Kauffman, and Edward Kienholz, among others, Irwin was invited to join the Ferus Gallery, founded by legendary curator Walter Hopps. At the time, Irwin was creating large, gestural Abstract Expressionist paintings, but soon after he began to experiment with more Minimalist works, consisting of geometric forms. Merging his artistic process with his interests in science, philosophy, and religion, Irwin developed a theory that art ought to be conditional to its environment. These ideas led him to abandon the framed canvas and instead make work in direct response to given surroundings. Light and sensory experience became central to his practice; he is recognized as one of the artists at the forefront of the Light and Space movement, based in Southern California. Since the 1970s, Irwin has continued to make what he calls site-conditioned works, including the design of the grounds at Dia: Beacon Center for the Arts and the central gardens at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. In 1984 he was the first visual artist to be awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

On the occasion of Robert Irwin: Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1977), the Whitney will digitize the catalogue that was published in conjunction with the 1977 exhibition and make it available on In addition to “Notes on a Model,” the catalogue also includes images and project plans, as well as biographical and exhibition information compiled by the 1977 exhibition’s curator, Richard Marshall. The updated online version will feature a new introduction by Donna De Salvo.

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