Robert Irwin shows us how we see: now at the Whitney Museum

I highly recommend taking a trip directly to the 4th Floor of the Whitney Museum — do not pass Go, do not give in to the temptation of seeing the Edward Hopper drawings on the floor below — and seeing what sort of sunlight is filtering in to the museum’s window right now.

The sunlight — a milky grey on the afternoon I was there — is brought to you courtesy of California Space & Light artist Robert Irwin, or rather, a massive scrim he’s installed: it spans the length of the entire room, but not its height. And, depending on how tall you are, it will block a region that roughly bisects the far wall in half, vertically.

What this means for us, as viewers, is that a black line that traverses the far wall, and happens to be about the same width as the bottom of the screen, will merge in your mind’s eye and become kissing cousins, though they differ widely in space.

Crane your neck, focus on the middle distance, and here’s your optical reward: and a single black line will float in space — for real — completely free.

There’s more rewards of a formal and experiential nature, too numerous to mention, and too utterly subjective. I loved the way that the Marcel Breuer building’s architecture came alive, particularly the border of that weird, geometrically pivoted window, which also (no surprise!) has a black border the same width as those brain/scrim/paint lines.

The Whitney re-created this piece from 1977, and, as an added absolutely juicy geek bonus, made pdf’s of the original exhibition catalogue as well. That means we (I [heart] Phenomenology) types can sit on stools and read the artist, who has a masterful way with the written word, explain things to us like Perception, and Experience, and how both those things merge into the creative process (filtered through materials) to create meaningful art.
Flip through that same catalogue here (under ‘Exhibition catalogue’);
though I recommend your doing it on site, after having experienced the work, for the full benefit.

Read more of Irwin’s amazing writing in this compilation here. It’s a primer in all things phenomenological. In the Editor’s Note, you will find this:

Modern Art, argues Irwin, represents a move…to highlight the complexity of individual perceptual experience. Rather than reversing the hierarchy, placing reason atop logic, Irwin describes modern art as an attempt to establish a productive tension between individual subjective experience and abstract, impersonal means of communication.

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