Robert Irwin, Gypsy Switch, 2010
It seems to me that the key role for art is in the continual development and extension of humans' potential to perceive the world. Art is always re-looking at the nature of nature, the nature of being actively in the world…The pure subject of art is human perception. Once you take that as a position, it changes all the rules of the game for what you do and how you do it. -- Robert Irwin, 2007
Robert Irwin seeks to expand the realm of human perception through art and architecture. For over five decades Irwin has challenged the conventions of his field—working in painting, sculpture, and installation art, as well as creating major public earthworks and architecture.
This exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art presents Gypsy Switch, 2010, a work that addresses color, light, and space. Thirty-three fluorescent lights are arranged to create an environment that resonates with energy and vitality. The gallery is transformed through shadow and reflection, volume and light, atmosphere and color. Born in Long Beach, California in 1928, Irwin began experimenting with abstract expressionist methods of painting in the late 1950s. Moving through this style, he sought to reduce his art to its most elemental forms by refining his palette, abandoning the use of frames, and making sculptures where the specific conditions of the installation were as important as the object itself.
During the 1960s Irwin was a central figure within the California Light and Space movement which originated in Los Angeles and its surrounding area. Artists associated with this group, including James Turrell and Maria Nordman, created site-responsive installations inspired by the potential of sensory perception experienced through engagement with a work of art.
By 1970 Irwin had departed completely from object-based studio practice. He began to work on projects that specifically addressed architecture and landscape. His numerous public works include the architectural design and grounds for the Dia: Beacon, in Beacon, New York, and the extensive Gardens of the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles. In preparation for a major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in 2007, Irwin returned to making work in the studio. Always evolving, always questioning, Gypsy Switch continues Irwin’s exploration of energy and its environment.