On Saturday, July 23, 2016, from dawn to dusk, the Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati will open a new large-scale artwork by Robert Irwin. Sixteen years in the planning, this long- awaited installation further elaborates Donald Judd’s vision of Chinati as a singular place for contemporary art and is the first major addition to the collection since the opening of the Dan Flavin project in 2000 and the opening of the John Wesley gallery in 2004. Irwin’s largest work to date, it represents the culmination of his decades-long investigation into the act of perception through poetic manipulation of space and light.
While Robert Irwin is recognized as one of the outstanding artists of his generation, much of his past work was created and installed on a temporary basis. His new project for Chinati is the only permanent, freestanding structure that has been conceived and designed by Irwin as a total work of art. In 1999, Irwin was invited to create a work for the site of a long-abandoned army hospital adjacent to the museum’s main campus. Over the ensuing years, Irwin developed and refined a design that was informed by the open conditions of the derelict building, the surrounding landscape, and the sky overhead. The completed work fuses indoors and outdoors, art and architecture, the past and the present, nature and the man-made, and creates an ideal complement to Chinati’s permanent collection.
Donald Judd collected and supported Robert Irwin’s art and hoped to include it at Chinati. This ambitious project realizes that goal and will also contribute to the growing reputation of Marfa, Texas as one of America’s unique cultural places.
What Irwin has contributed to Chinati is an artwork in the form of a building, with light and shadow as its primary subjects. The original building that occupied the site was a dilapidated C-shaped concrete structure, lined on all sides with a long sequence of windows that surrounded a central courtyard. It sat on a gentle slope and when Irwin first visited, the building’s floors had been removed, raising the window sills to eye level and offering what Irwin later described as a “Dutch landscape-like view” of the surrounding West Texas land and sky. He chose to cut the newly constructed building into the existing slope to retain the same physical relationship.
As visitors enter from the street, gravel-lined walkways offer an option of directions. Antechambers to the right and the left are open to the sky—referencing the historic structure’s previous ruined state. The building is formally divided in half, with one side dark, the other light. Inside, transparent scrim walls are stretched taut from floor to ceiling in black or white respectively, bisecting each long wing and capturing the always-changing natural light, appearing opaque one moment and transparent the next.
The connecting corridor has a progression of scrim walls that sequentially cross and fill the space, with an enfilade of doors for passage. The courtyard has been transformed into a garden defined by concrete paths running along Corten steel-lined raised beds with two rows of Palo Verde trees. Niches with benches flank the central planter, where Irwin has created a tableau of large basalt columns. The surrounding fields of grasses, wildflowers, mesquite, scrubs, and cactus are left in their natural state.
In 1973, Robert Irwin discussed his artistic principles in words that aptly describe his approach to this new work for Chinati:
The sculptural response draws all of its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings. A quiet distillation of all this—while directly experiencing the site—determines all the facets of the sculptural response: aesthetic sensibility, levels and kinds of physicality, gesture, dimensions, materials, kinds and level of finish, details… whether the response should be monumental or ephemeral, aggressive or gentle, useful or useless, sculptural, architectural, or simply the planting of a tree or maybe doing nothing at all.
The inauguration of Robert Irwin’s new work for Chinati will be held on Saturday, July 23, 2016, from sunrise to sunset. The building is located at the corner of Bonnie and South Yale Street in Marfa, Texas. Everyone is invited to attend. There will be a free community-wide barbecue dinner with Mariachi music at the Arena from 6:30 until 9:00 PM, and a public talk about the development of Irwin’s work at the Crowley Theater in downtown Marfa at 3:30 PM. Selected works from The Chinati Foundation’s permanent collection will be open throughout the weekend, and there will be a sunrise viewing of Judd’s works in mill aluminum and works in concrete on Sunday morning.
Robert Irwin was born in 1928 in Long Beach, California. He attended Otis Institute and Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. Although Irwin began as an abstract painter and exhibited his work at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1970 he began to pursue a more philosophical and critical inquiry and his work shifted away from traditional paintings and objects to focus on a new type of environmental or experience-based art Irwin called “conditional”—room-filling installations that reconfigured light and space, created in direct response to existing architectural situations.