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Robert Irwin at MCASD

Post #1119 • January 30, 2008, 12:09 PM • 27 Comments

[I'm waiting for MCASD to get back to me with images. In the meantime, some are here.]

San Diego - Robert Irwin's Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue3 consists of a colossal array of lacquered aluminum panels airbrushed with urethane, with slick results in more ways than one - Supergirl confessed that she didn't have much of an opinion about it as art, but thought it would be fun to take off her shoes and slide across it in her socks. That summed up the problem I have with this work. Taking in the big expanses of color, the reflections in the ultra-glossy panels, and the light falling in from the long clerestory windows in 1001 Kettner ought to have evoked something more than mild joie de vivre. I thought of the Noguchi installation at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City, which induced salutary peacefulness and a certain warm delight that made Who's Afraid seem unserious by comparison.

Irwin has arrived at this rather mannered minimalism after a five-decade exploration that began in Abstract Expressionism, which he could produce with great aplomb, even if indebted to Guston all the while. In the mid-'60s he explored Op, again with worthy if not especially individual results, and then hit upon a surprising format: an acrylic dome, painted with a horizontal band and dusted with a translucent, neutral hue. When lit from all sides as per the artist's intstructions, these works blend right into the wall and surrounding atmosphere, charging the whole area with an exciting defiance of viewer comphrehension. His scrim works such as Five x Five come close to doing the same on a large scale. Lucent and orthogonal, they represent the stylistic polar opposite of Richard Serra, but with similar intentions of enveloping the viewer in a high corridor that forces an appreciation of space.

But the pressure comes off with the shiny monochrome plates in Kettner. When Barnett Newman first asked the titular question in the '60s, artists hadn't yet answered that many of them were shedding their loyalty to color and form anyway. To ask the same question now seems nostalgic for a time in which these cavernous swaths of gloss might have come off as problematic rather than decorative. That goes double for the fifty-foot wall of diagonally arranged flourescent lights, actually entitled Light and Space as if as a reminder. But the moment that would have elevated this recent series has passed, and not even uncompromised ambitions of scale, contained only by the building itself, inject urgency back into it.

Comment

1.

Eric

January 30, 2008, 6:45 PM

Robert Irwin’s perception altering polyurethane paint over lacquer on aircraft honeycomb aluminum masterpiece, “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow & Blue” is an entire room filled with shiny blue, red, and yellow slabs. You can look deeply into and more importantly, have your mind blown by these colorful rectangles. You can also see reflections in them! How could our lives remain unchanged after experiencing a big room filled with colorful and reflective slabs? I found myself pondering red, yellow, and blue. Soon I realized that these are in fact the primary colors! This insight penetrated my brain and left me completely slack jawed. Here is a huge reflective slab of red. I thought of red things, shiny reflective red things. Here is a blue slab. I thought of the essence of blueness and all things blue. Here is a yellow slab. I thought of yellow stuff. These three colors are so important in relation to our lives. Just think about how many things are blue, red, and yellow in the world. There are so many. I can never look at red, blue, and yellow things again in the same way.

2.

opie

January 30, 2008, 7:39 PM

Excellent, Eric. I would hesitate to even consider risking such a shattering esthetic experience. I trust you have recovered.

3.

Marc Country

January 30, 2008, 11:08 PM

Those exclamation marks give away the sarcasm; otherwise, that looks pretty much like a lot of 'sincere' contemporary art writing, to me...

4.

Eric

January 31, 2008, 5:05 AM

I originally included the word 'Whoa' after the exclamation point but I deleted it because I didn't want to make the sarcasm obvious. You are right though. I should have gotten rid of the ! as well. Mocking "a lot of 'sincere' contemporary art writing" is fun to do, and should be done more often. Maybe it would embarrass art critics into writing better prose but I doubt it.

5.

Jack

January 31, 2008, 6:03 AM

This guy should be working as an interior designer for self-consciously progressive architects. You know, doing fancy airports and stuff.

6.

opie

January 31, 2008, 6:26 AM

Also, Eric, your English is too clear and straightforward. You need to bone up on all the obscurantist cliches. And your enthusiasm is too evident; a proper pomo writer dilutes enthusiasm with a tone of academic distance.

7.

catfish

January 31, 2008, 7:10 AM

Yeah Eric, you had me convinced your eye was beyond hope.

8.

Eric

January 31, 2008, 8:04 AM

As an art critic I of course can only hope that my eye is not "beyond hope" but I will keep these self conscious ponderings to myself. And yes, most art writing is shit on burnt toast.

9.

Jack

January 31, 2008, 8:22 AM

The Disney people might also find his services useful.

10.

opie

January 31, 2008, 9:07 AM

Recipe for success in the art business

1. Generate a simple, clear idea.

2. Generate large, clear slickly-made visual corollaries to the idea.

3. Evolve slowly, if at all.

4. Keep at it for years

11.

x

January 31, 2008, 10:06 AM

what would we say is irwin's idea, opie?

12.

Darren

January 31, 2008, 10:07 AM

That sounds like a great recipe Opie, what are the side dishes?

13.

opie

January 31, 2008, 11:55 AM

1. Make it large, very large
2. Make it thoroughly non-referential
3. Make it all or partially transparent
4. Use dramatic lighting effects
5. Concentrate on evoking a theatrical aura of mysterious luminosity
6. Do this for 40 years with no radical change

side dishes:

scrim slaw
seefar salad
glow fries

14.

Darren

January 31, 2008, 12:00 PM

Mmmmmm.... glow fries.......mmmmmm.......

15.

Eric

January 31, 2008, 12:11 PM

Theories about the idea(s) that inspired the creation of Robert Irwin's Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue:

People are afraid of colors and I am going to cover an entire room with shiny reflective slabs that are colored red, yellow, and blue. People are afraid of primary colors (I am not sure about secondary colors) so I will cover an entire room with shiny reflective red, blue, and yellow slabs and I will help them get over their fear of the primary colors. Having a room colored in slabs that are colored red, blue, and yellow will shock viewers. They will not know what to do when they see them. They are so unaccustomed to empty spectacle that they will be shaken to their very foundations, and will be forced to remake themselves anew. I have a catchy title that cynically refers to an actual work of art done in the past, and I will have big shiny things manufactured for me that will take up a really big space.

16.

ahab

January 31, 2008, 12:11 PM

Not only is that formula reverse-engineerable upon cursory glances at the production of superstar American artists like Irwin or Serra, but it pervasively underlies the ambitions of artists-to-be. It's a gestalt, but one that needs to be shattered person by person if we're ever to rehabilitate our taste for art-authentique.

17.

ahab

January 31, 2008, 12:12 PM

that formula s/b those formulae

18.

Eric

January 31, 2008, 12:17 PM

Theories about the idea(s) that inspired the creation of Robert Irwin's Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue:

People are afraid of colors and I am going to cover an entire room with shiny reflective slabs that are colored red, yellow, and blue. People are afraid of primary colors (I am not sure about secondary colors) so I will cover an entire room with shiny reflective red, blue, and yellow slabs which will help them get over their fear of the primary colors. Having a room covered in slabs that are colored red, blue, and yellow will shock viewers. They will not know what to do when they see them. They are so unaccustomed to empty spectacle that they will be shaken to their very foundations, and will be forced to remake themselves anew. I have a catchy title that cynically refers to an actual work of art done in the past, and I will have big shiny things manufactured for me that will take up a really big space.

(fixed errors)

19.

x

January 31, 2008, 12:25 PM

thank you opie. my complaint with irwin and by extension judd and serra(and select others) centers around an intended but failed autonomy for the work which it can never attain by virtue of its relationship to architecture. maybe i'm about to rehash michael fried in some way but i've just been thinking about this stuff as stuff (read sculpture). irwin would likely have us ignore altogether the thingness of his work and judd wants it both ways and i'm not sure either ever really attains because of a troublesome relationship with architecture. this isn't inherently bad, necessary maybe. necessary as a starting point for a critical framework that doesn't try to categorize this kind of stuff so explicitly. i think this is like a new kind of interior decorating. that sounds so dismissive but it's not supposed to. i am intrigued at specifically greenberg's voiced reluctance to address archtitecture with any rigour. he said more or less that it's just too difficult. but what do we make of this kind of work that relies on architecture yet requires the same attention we bring to bear on sculpture? just some thoughts.

20.

ahab

January 31, 2008, 12:39 PM

My complaint with works by the artists you mention, x, centers around the sufficiency of reading about them and looking at thumbnails of them. Visiting the things, rubbing shoulders with the pieces just isn't necessary. Unlike the best of Rodin, or Smith, or Gonzalez.

The 'why' of this has many many facets of which one may well be the Irwin-things' faulty scale relationship to architecture. The more profound reason is that the artists, for all their savvy-ness and technical prowess, can't see the deficiencies.

21.

ahab

January 31, 2008, 12:45 PM

Or, if they do see them don't acknowledge and fix them.

22.

craigfrancis

January 31, 2008, 10:08 PM

You guys have just about become a parody of yourselves. I'm no defender of Irwin, but Ahab's "Visiting the things, rubbing shoulders with the pieces just isn't necessary," is hilarious considering your focus on "the eye". Thanks.

See, indeed, ahab. Ha. Oh dear. zzzzz.

I can't believe the Giants made the Superbowl.

23.

ahab

January 31, 2008, 10:41 PM

Paradoxes abound.

24.

Marc Country

January 31, 2008, 11:12 PM

Huh? Say I go see a Donald Judd box, I am unimpressed, and I decide that viewing it in a photo would have sufficed. So, where's the "parody"?

Oops, hey CF?

25.

Eric

February 1, 2008, 7:09 AM

Oh, fiberglass cube in a room
Oh, smooth silky fiberglass cube in a room
You move me cube yes you really do
You move me like no other cube can do
You mock the space your in, hey hey
You mock the space your in, hey hey
A cube in a room has got nothing to do
A cube in a room has got nothing to do
Oh, fiberglass cube I will miss you
Oh, fiberglass cube I will miss you
Miss you when I am out of the room
You are smooth and lovely yes you are
Like liquidy liquid in the shape of a cube
Hey Hey

26.

opie

February 1, 2008, 7:20 AM

X - it boils down once again to: it is any good? My problem with Serra's work is not size or relationship to architecture but simply that it is too ordinary as sculpture. (Same goes for Gehry's even more massive "sculpture") What little I have actually seen of Irwin's comes down to the same thing. It is there to impress, not to give an esthetic experience.

I'm not sure I ever talked to Greenberg about architecture but I suspect he just didn;t want to complicate his life with it. He gave a talk about photography at the Met once and got everyone pissed off by saying that photography was and should be a narrative medium and should not try to mess around with abstraction, or something to that effect.

27.

Jack

February 1, 2008, 2:14 PM

So many glorified interior decorators and environmental designers/engineers, so little time (never mind interest).

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