Currently on View in Pulliam Family Great Hall (W202)
Robert Irwin has been an important pioneer of American art since the sixties as an artist, theoretician, and teacher. Irwin played a pivotal role in the history of American art as one of the leaders of the Light and Space movement, which questioned the material premises of traditional art and brought about a new conception of installation and environmental art. Through site-specific works such as Light and Space III, Irwin has expanded the traditional boundaries of art to encompass the larger environment and the viewer’s perceptual experience of it.
Hailing from the West Coast, Irwin studied at the Otis Art Institute and then at the progressive Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in the 1950s. He began his artistic career working in an Abstract Expressionist style of painting, although he quickly abandoned figuration to explore a Minimalist approach to form. Between 1966 and 1969, in an effort to create works that would "dissolve" into their environment, Irwin developed a series of convex discs that appear to float upon the wall, one of which belongs to the IMA’s permanent collection. In 1970, however, Irwin broke with painting and embarked on an extended inquiry of an art outside the traditional frame and object.
To celebrate its 125th anniversary, the IMA commissioned Irwin to create Light and Space III, which transforms the experience of entering the Museum’s galleries. Responding to the specific configuration of Pulliam Great Hall, Irwin arranged fluorescent light bulbs in an irregular grid pattern across the walls surrounding the escalators, with a veil of scrim framing each side. The combination of lights and semi-transparent scrim engages the entire architectural space in a kind of abstract composition, which shifts according to the viewer’s changing vantage point and plays with one’s perception of the space around them.
Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2008.