Robert Irwin: Buzy Body, 2018
Buzy Body (2018) effectively dissolves the perceived border between object and environment. Composed from unlit 15.24cm fluorescent lights mounted to fixtures and installed in vertical rows directly on the wall, the glass tubes are covered in layers of opulently colored translucent gels and thin strips of electrical tape. Each light fixture in Irwin’s sculpture contains one or two unlit bulbs—or no bulb at all—while alternating gaps of an “empty” wall are painted in subtle shades of gray, producing a sense of uncertainty about what is tactile and what is merely optical. As the shadowed, painted and reflected intervals of space reverberate in the viewer’s visual field, the wall itself enters the composition, destabilizing any sense of figure and ground. Although unlit, the bulbs in the Unlights series are therefore never “off.” Their optically rich surfaces serve as energetic loci for heightening the sensory possibilities of the human body.
Robert Irwin (b. 1928) is a pioneering figure of the Los Angeles-based Light and Space movement of the 1960s. Beginning his career as a painter, Irwin later began exploring perception and light with his acrylic columns and discs. In 1969, he gave up his studio and began what he termed a conditional practice, working with the effects of light through subtle interventions in space and architecture. Irwin employs a wide range of media—including fluorescent lights, fabric scrims, colored and tinted gels, paint, wire, acrylic and glass—in the creation of site-conditioned works that respond to the context of their specific environments.
Irwin is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a five-year MacArthur Fellowship (1984–89) and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (1976). Irwin has had more than eighty solo exhibitions at institutions including Dia Art Foundation, New York (2015, 1998); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2013, 1977); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2009, 1976); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2007, 1997); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970). Irwin has been represented by Pace since 1966 and the gallery has held eighteen solo artist exhibitions of his work.
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