An excursus on Irwin: If traipsing out to West Texas isn’t in the cards this summer, consider day tripping to upstate New York, where Robert Irwin created a “site-conditioned” (his term) installation for Dia:Beacon. Conceptually, the evolution of Excursus: Homage to the Square³ began nearly two decades ago when the Dia Foundation commissioned Irwin to make a work for their former Chelsea site. Shape-shifting by design, the 1998 installation opened in April as Prologue: x18³ —18 interconnected rooms defined by transparent scrims. The gallery walls, covered in blue and gray theatrical gels, subtly changed in tone with shifting natural light. Come summer of 1998, Irwin pushed the installation further in terms of intensity, shifting the entrance and installing vertical fluorescent lights rooms in each room. Thus reborn, he renamed the experience Excursus: Homage to the Square³. Dia bought the work, and now, years on, asked Irwin to redesign the piece for the former Nabisco factory he helped reimagine as an epic art space. Such site-conditioning, as Irwin defines it, requires drawing out “the sculptural response draws all its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings.”
In the 1950s, Irwin began his career as an abstract painter, but by the 1970s, he vacated his studio and turned to scrim (after discovering the diaphanous medium in Amsterdam). His “conditional art” approaches the environment as the form; his hand thus heightens the perception of space. Excursus represents a pivotal point in his career: the work is utterly undidactic. There’s no beginning, middle or end. There’s no front or back. Viewers decide how they explore/interact with the installation. And yet, at every turn, they encounter a moment touched by Irwin. As the exhibition introduction explains:
The presentation of Excursus at Dia:Beacon is particularly resonant, for Irwin was deeply involved with the museum’s design, including its exterior public spaces, main entryway, and windows. Moving from the work’s redesigned scrim chambers, through the building’s subtle spatial interventions, and finally to the landscaped gardens and forecourt, visitors have the unique opportunity to experience an environment of which virtually every facet has been touched by the artist.
Giddy up and go before May 2017 (in these excellent stirrup pants).