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“Robert Irwin: Site Determined” opens at CSULB

The exhibit shows an artist’s developmental successes, failures and processes.

%22Robert+Irwin%3A+Site+Determined%22+includes+developmental+plans+for+many+of+Irwin%27s+architectural+projects.+

"Robert Irwin: Site Determined" includes developmental plans for many of Irwin's architectural projects.

Sabrina Flores | Daily 49er

Sabrina Flores | Daily 49er

"Robert Irwin: Site Determined" includes developmental plans for many of Irwin's architectural projects.

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The journey is greater than the destination in the University Art Museum’s newest exhibit, “Robert Irwin: Site Determined.” The show, curated by Cal State Long Beach art history professor Matthew Simms, focuses on the developmental process for many of Irwin’s most popular and theorized pieces and how he uses his given environment as a source of inspiration for his work.

While most art exhibits have paintings and sculptures covering the walls and filling every space in their galleries, Irwin’s art is something that must be appreciated with time. The way he utilizes the characteristics of each environment creates a sensual experience for viewers that can only be fully recognized by following his journey to finishing the pieces.

“It’s this focus on the simple gesture of art that is responding to things that are already happening and it requires you to rethink what art is,” Simms said. “[The exhibit is] asking us to rethink what art is.”

From airports and institutes to Cal State Long Beach’s own campus, Irwin shows his talent not by placing beautiful pieces of art into environments, but by using that environment as part of the piece itself. He takes into account the slope of the land, the way the sun will hit the viewer and the sound of a nearby river to assure that the art will compliment the surroundings rather than disturb them, and invite people to take notice of the space around them.

“It’s nice for students to know that art can be something that follows you around in the world,” Simms said. “It’s not just something you make. One of the things that happens when you spend time with Irwin’s art is that you start to realize that art is happening everywhere.”

Students are able to feel a close connection to their campus by seeing the first drafts of “Window Wall,” a piece adjacent to the Fine Arts buildings created by Irwin in 1975, which was restored in celebration of the exhibit. By walking by the site, Irwin is inviting viewers to see the opposite side of the frame as a sort of moving picture, and to see their own lives as a piece of art itself.

“The fact that CSULB has his first permanent site-determined public sculpture, it’s important to bring that whole body of work here,” museum director Kimberli Meyer said. “It felt like this was the birthplace of that body of work, so it seemed like the perfect show to have here.”

Each gallery includes numerous sketches done over time for projects the Long Beach native has worked on over the course of his career, many of which either changed drastically in their processes or ended up unrealized.

“It’s not about the art, but it’s the process of thinking toward the art,” Simms said. “What we usually see are the finished things…so by bringing out some of the unrealized stages of this project we get to see the evolution. All the effort and all the thinking that went into it is valuable.”

The exhibit culminates with drawings and models of Irwin’s plans for a project commissioned by the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Viewers can see the evolution of Irwin’s plans for the building, as they go from a monochromatic color scheme with no window panes or roof to the finished product of two long hallways with wide windows that play off the placing of the sunshine.

“To me it’s just a very interesting way to look at architecture rather than just the buildings itself,” Huntington Beach resident Victor Manalo said after touring the gallery. “Really being in harmony with the environment and even highlighting the environment is wonderful to look at.”

One of the largest parts of the exhibit is taken up by Irwin’s plans for the Miami International Airport, which he worked on for years but never saw come to fruition. While this project was never realized, it taught Irwin the most as an artist in terms of creation, recreation and ultimately failure.

“They have a kind of educational value in the sense that they show the process of an artist who’s trying to create something on this scale getting started,” Simms said. “There is something to be taken from it, to not feel as though a project that didn’t get fully realized didn’t involve a valuable lesson.”

“Robert Irwin: Site Determined” will be on campus through April 15 before relocating to the Pratt Institute of Architecture.

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