Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Robert Irwin’s Light and Space @ White Cube’s Mason’s Yard

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on October 26, 2008

Robert Irwin delivers such a visual one-two punch with his Light and Space exhibition at White Cube that the persuasive forces of light versus dark are all encompassing. His two new pieces, Black³ and Light and Space II, are each very different in quality and tone yet both are spectacularly inclusive environments.

Standing in the midst of Robert Irwin’s Black³ provides the ultimate play on space and perception. You literally expect to see yourself reflected in this seemingly infinite repetition but the viewer is absent; this is not a mirror, only painting. Six square scrims with painted black squares hang from the ceiling to floor in a neat row. On opposing sides of the wall are two pitch-black aluminum square paintings that act as bookends. The piece reveals itself slowly via the transparency of the scrims in that the mirrored quality is an illusion, simply echoed by the paintings themselves. There is something quite profound in looking into an image of the infinite, getting darker and more deep, where you can’t help but still catch a glimpse of one’s self.

If Black³ offers a glimpse into the abyss then downstairs Light and Space II provides the enlightenment. Numerous fluorescent tubes are placed at right angles to each other on either side of the large exhibition room. They envelope the viewer and look similar to a pattern one might notice on a steel toolbox. These are clearly tubes you could buy at the local hardware store yet they transform the space into a visual wonderland. Playing with light as visual perception, Irwin creates color and illusion: the longer they are stared at the more they appear to move, creating shadows that deepen the object onto the gallery wall.

As a friend recently said to me, “When you can ponder Bob Irwin, things could be much worse.” It’s true – thinking of how Irwin creates something so grand via very quiet means is a luxury. It’s a little shocking to think that this seminal artist from Southern California is only now having his debut U.K. solo exhibition. In the 1960s he famously abandoned his traditional studio painting practice for a more installation-based approach to creating works becoming a founder figure in the “Light and Space” movement. His interest in manipulating perception through means of light, space, and scale as well as having the site to inform the piece is as evident today as ever before. Irwin messes with our minds, challenging what we think we’re seeing, but we enjoy every second of it.

Robert Irwin – Light and Space
@ White Cube Mason’s Yard
September 17 – October 19, 2008

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