Sunday, September 13, 2009

Field Trip: Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin, Untitled @Hirshhorn Museum (Music: Sigur Ros)

I couldn't find an image to illustrate the story of the stairwell so am using this video of Untitled instead.

"Then I ran into a utility stairwell which presented a very interesting situation. There were a couple things that were very nice about it. One was that while the front stairwell was very formal, with floating steps and everything, and was the architect's attempt to be very 'designed,' very artistic, in a way–I didn't like it particularly–this utility stairwell was simply that, a utility stairwell. It had the minimum. It met all the legal requirements, period, and nothing else. How steep it was–I don't think it could have been any steeper. It had those kind of institutional railings. The corners had an angle on them. It was the simplest kind of concrete shaft; I mean, in terms of architecture, there was no attempt to modify or make that space interesting at all. Institutional light fixtures, the whole thing, just by the book.

"But there was one thing funny about it: the architect, in wanting to continue his illusions about the building from an architectural point of view, did not want the exterior facade of the building to stop at a certain point; so he continued it on to include this utility stairwell, which was very funny, in a way, because it had nothing to do with the stairwell at all; it had all to do with this idea about facade. In other words, he ran this series of windows the entire length of the building so as to fit his modular conception.

"But the unintended effect of all of that was that that utility stairwell was quite a nice place. One of the things that was very nice about it was that all the light in there was reflected light. Only in the morning was there a little slit of direct light, but most of the light was reflected. And interestingly enough, in this situation it was reflected off an awful lot of different kinds of surfaces–a very red building across the way, some very strong green grass; it depended on the time of day you were there as to the color the stairwell was. I mean, it was subtle. Most people would have probably said it was white all the time; but to me, you'd walk in there, and at a certain time of day it was violet, and another time of day it was green, and another time of day it was a subtle mixture of colors. It was a very loaded kind of situation.

"So I did a lot of things in that stairwell. I changed a lot of things. I neutralized things and blocked things and removed things. I fooled around with the covering of the baseboard; there was a situation in terms of one of the windows where I made it look as though it continued where in fact it didn't. I covered up one section of one window so that the far corner looked as if it were angled as all the other corners were angled. All sorts of things like that, which no one really saw–which, by the way, they weren't intended to see; it was just the presence of the situation which I liked.

"Then, I think, I probably made an error, and it probably had a little bit to do with my not being on top of the situation. I put a piece of scrim material up near the second floor, up high, and stretched it out flat. It did a nice thing; I mean, it did work in the room in a way. But in a way it also defeated me in the sense that the few people who did deal with the stairwell at all finally said, 'Oh that's it,' and pointed, dealt with the scrim as though it were the art; whereas it was simply a device that I had used hopefully to try and get the situation maybe a little more strongly identified. Without the scrim I don't know if anybody would have seen it–maybe one or two people. And a curious thing, when the show eventually came down, I went back there and found a number of the things which I had done had not been removed. For some reason they either didn't notice them or didn't know that I had put them there. But in a funny way, even with a lot of the things removed, that stairwell still was doing exactly what it did so well. It didn't need my scrim. And in a funny way, maybe it didn't need any of the details I added. What was really essential was going on there anyway."

-- Robert Irwin to Lawrence Weschler, seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees by Lawrence Weschler

Robert Irwin (link)

Robert Irwin @Hirshhorn (link)

Untitled (a variation) @MoMA (link)

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