Robert Irwin (b. 1928, Long Beach, California) has for the past six decades positioned himself as one of the world’s most influential and central contemporary artists. Irwin started his career in the late 1950s, painting hand-held objects in dialogue with Abstract Expressionism. Unwilling to confine to what had already been done in the history of art, he began experimenting with materials in the 1960s. Irwin threw himself into studies of philosophy and art history and theory, introducing works that intellectually explored the interaction between artwork and beholder, through site-specific installations. He became a legend on the West Coast art scene as he pioneered the L.A.-based “Light and Space” movement in the 1960s, underlining the contextual experience with art, and the artwork’s existence in the real world. Since 1975, Irwin has installed more than fifty site-conditional projects in rooms, gardens, parks, museums, and other various urban locations. His light installations confront the viewer to be in direct dialogue with the work in its particular environment, and with the physical environment directly, in the process breaking down the limits of the framed artwork. This theoretical introduction of the experience and perception of a work of art, is what Irwin has termed “conditional art,” a philosophical position he has explored both through installations and writing.
Irwin’s work is to be found in more than thirty public collections worldwide, most recently in the Albright-Knox Gallery, where his
work Niagara was installed in 2012. Irwin was one of the foundational artists shown in The Getty Center’s Pacific Standard Time exhibitions (2011-12), where the institution reviewed the L.A. art scene from 1945 to 1980. Irwin’s works are also to be found in institutions including The Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Cleveland Museum of Art; Dallas Museum of Art; Denver Art Museum; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Kolnischer Kunstverein, Cologne; Musée d’Art Contemporain, Lyon; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Robert Irwin was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship from 1976-77 and a National Endowment for the Arts’ Artist Grant in 1978. He was the first artist to be awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship from 1984-89, and has received Honorary Doctorates from a number of universities and art institutes. He has lectured at distinguished institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Harvard University. Irwin became an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2007.