Cultured Magazine

February/March 2016

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204 CULTURED UNCONDITIONAL Five decades into his career, Robert Irwin's conditional art continues to play with light and space. BY JANELLE ZARA PORTRAIT BY PHILIPP SCHOLZ RITTERMAN The epic variety of materials that have gone into Robert Irwin's immersive, ineffable body of work—the black rectangle and scrim veil that temporarily transformed the Whitney in 1977, for example, or the palm trees now growing at an installation at Los Angeles County Museum of Art— traces back to simpler origins. More than 50 years ago, the artist who now specializes in light and space worked in paint. "At one point I was just doing straight lines," Irwin, 87, explains over a breakfast biscuit at a McDonald's in San Diego, the city where he now lives and works. "I spent I don't know how many hours putting a line up and down in relation to another one. For days on end. For months on end. For years." Retreading Irwin's path from lines to pure light, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's upcoming exhibition "Robert Irwin: All the Rules Will Change" (April 7 through September 5) surveys his output from 1958 to 1970, beginning with his hand-held paintings and line paintings, and continuing through his dot paintings, acrylic discs and columns. The exhibition leaps from 1970 to the present day, culminating in Squaring the Circle, a work made of simple scrim that responds profoundly to Gordon Bunshaft's circular architecture. "That arc forms a kind of narrative about his own artistic development," says Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu. "In some ways it's also a journey from dark to light." Light had become one of Irwin's principal media by 1970, the year he abandoned painting and sculpture for a completely different art altogether. "I began again by simply getting rid of my studio and all its accompanying

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