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.