Modern and Contemporary
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Robert Irwin (American, born 1928),
Untitled , 1969
acrylic and formed acrylic disc, diameter: 54 in., 137.16 cm
Museum purchase, 1970.84

The early paintings of Robert Irwin reflect the influence of Abstract Expressionism yet, like many artists in the 1960s, he tested abstraction's limits by reducing art to geometric forms, all but eliminating the act of painting and the need for a frame. However, where his East Coast counterparts such as Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland stressed the facts and materials of art, Californian Irwin focused on the act of visual perception. Using such materials as acrylic, lighting, and scrim, he "dematerialized" art and created work that challenged the viewer's sense of space and boundaries. The artist's emphasis on the transformative properties of light has often been linked to two decidedly West Coast influences: his training at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, which stressed the importance of the viewer’s experience, and the brilliant and pervasive California sun. In 1970, Irwin stopped making objects in the studio and, after several years of lecturing on perception, began to construct temporary environments that called the viewer's attention to the spatial and light qualities of the setting. 

An example of the "light and space" movement with which Irwin is associated, Joslyn's untitled sculpture is an audaciously simple work. A painted, convex acrylic disc, affixed to the wall by a clear acrylic cylinder, is lit from equidistant points — two on the ceiling and two on the floor. A band of gray provides a horizon line on the disc that merges into the cast shadows. The result is an ethereal sculpture of symmetrically overlapping circles formed by the disc and its four shadows that breaks down standard distinctions between the object, its background, and its environment.

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