85 year-old artist Robert Irwin has been something of a chameleon over his long career. Beginning as a painter, Irwin came to prominence as a light and space pioneer in the 1960s, and since the 70s he’s focused on landscape projects and site-specific installations. What unites all his work, however, is the importance of the physical experience, not just the visual. For this reason, it has been difficult to capture the true sensation of standing before, or in, one of his works through photography alone. “For the longest time he wouldn’t allow his work to be photographed, because as he said, a photograph captures nothing that the work is about and everything that it’s not about, it captures the image and not the presence,” said Lawrence Weschler, whose classic 1982 book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, traces Irwin’s artistic journey.
Robert Irwin: Projects & Exhibitions 2012 – 2013, a new book published by Quint Gallery in San Diego, sets out to change that by chronicling two dense years of projects from the tireless artist. After years of being unsatisfied with different photographers, Irwin has finally found one who is able to capture his work successfully. “Philipp Scholz Rittermann is really one of the first photographers to get Bob right,” said gallery director Ben Strauss-Malcolm. In addition to Scholz Rittermann’s insightful eye, the photographs in the book are coated with a spot-varnish, which makes them seem to jump off the page, according to Weschler. Strauss-Malcolm notes that it gives them the impression of being illuminated from behind, fitting given that light is such an important part Irwin’s work.
The twelve projects featured in the book jump around the globe from Italy to Austria, New York to Texas to San Diego. They also include a range of media, from fluorescent light pieces to scrim installations and landscape design. What unites the work is a sensitive consideration of each work’s relation to its site. “The book is a statement about what he’s been about his whole life, that the work is conditioned by the site,” Weschler said. “You respond completely differently at different sites, and no medium is out of bounds.”