Robert Irwin (b. 1928)

American installation artist Robert Irwin pioneered the Los Angeles-based ‘Light and Space’ movement in the 1960s. Through his use of light and environment, he developed what he termed Conditional Art, work that acts in complete dialogue with its environment.


Born in California in 1928, Irwin, after a year spent in the Unites States Army, embarked upon his study of art at a number of different West Coast art institutions, including the Otis Art Institute, Jepson Art Institute, and Chouinard Art Institute. After a period of travel in Europe and North Africa, he began his career as a painter, working in a gestural, Abstract Expressionist style.

Irwin soon abandoned the canvas to work directly with objects, at first polished discs of aluminum, and later plastic that projected out from the wall. In 1970, he introduced fluorescent light into his work to create site-specific installations. At the basis of all Irwin’s work lies an exploration into how art functions within certain environments and within specific conditions. Architectural in its scale, he explores the spatial and perceptual experiences created by his work, shaping environments with light and space.


Since 1975 Irwin has created fifty-five site-conditional projects, ranging from the architectural and grounds design of Dia:Beacon’s campus in New York (2003) to the lush Central Garden for the Getty Center in Los Angeles (2005).


His work is held in more than thirty public collections worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.


In 2013, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York reinstalled Irwin’s formative work, Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1977), originally made for the museum’s fourth floor gallery over 47 years ago.


Today, Robert Irwin lives and works in San Diego, California.