Pace Gallery remembers Robert Irwin
Pace is deeply saddened to announce the passing of artist Robert Irwin on October 25 at age 95.
A monumental figure in the California Light and Space movement, Irwin made innovations across painting, sculpture, and installation-based work over the course of nearly seven decades, expanding the contours of the canon and continually pushing the limits of what art can be. Through his influential and experimental practice—marked by both scientific and philosophical rigor—he proposed a new kind of art making centering on phenomenology and subjectivity as subjects unto themselves. Through his profound artistic inventions that make use of light and space as key materials, he cultivated a reputation as a visionary figure at the vanguard of what is known today as experiential art.
Irwin’s work is currently on view at Pace’s London gallery as part of the two-artist presentation Robert Irwin and Mary Corse: Parallax, and A Desert of Pure Feeling, a new documentary tracing the artist’s storied career, is available to stream on Amazon and Apple TV. The film, co-produced by Glimcher, makes its European premiere at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London on October 26.
“In my long career, I have been privileged to work with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century and develop deep friendships with them, but none greater or closer than Robert Irwin. In our 57-year relationship, his art and philosophy have extended my perception, shaped my taste, and made me realize what art could be” - Arne Glimcher
Born in Long Beach, California in 1928, Irwin began his career as a charismatic painter in the Los Angeles “cool school” scene, presenting his first monographic exhibition at the city’s Felix Landau Gallery in 1957. By the early 1960s, his work took on increasingly illusionistic dimensions. It was during this period that he began creating his more restrained line paintings—guided principally by questions of structure, color, and perception—along with his dot paintings, works on gently bowed supports composed with small, illimitable dots rendered in near-complementary colors.
A few years later, in 1966, Irwin started producing his series of curved aluminum and acrylic discs. Extending out from the wall, these works cast shadows of elegant geometries as part of their display. Liberating this body of work from the constraints of two-dimensionality, Irwin further obscured the boundaries between the physical and the sensory in his art.
The artist gave up his studio in 1969, departing entirely from traditional modes of making to embark on a decades-long investigation into the relationships between light, space, and perception. In this pursuit, he took up what he termed a “conditional art,” growing his practice of making installation-based works into the broader field of architecture. He became known for using various media—including fluorescent lights, fabric scrims, colored and tinted gels, paint, wire, acrylic, and glass—to create site-conditioned works that respond to the specific contexts of their environments. "Catching lightning in a bottle” was the artist’s favorite metaphor for his practice.
Over the past decade, Irwin returned to his studio, using it as an experimental space to develop sculptural works with florescent lights and acrylic—such as his Sculpture/Configuration works exhibited at Pace in New York in 2018 and his Unlight series, presented by Pace in New York in 2020 and 2022—while continuing to develop his site-conditioned installations.