Kraftwerk Berlin presents a major site-specific installation by Robert Irwin
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Kraftwerk Berlin presents a major site-specific installation by Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin, Light and Space (Kraftwerk Berlin), 2021. Commissioned by LAS (Light Art Space). © Photo: Timo Ohler. VG Bild-Kunst, 2021.

BERLIN.- LAS announced Light and Space (Kraftwerk Berlin), a major site-specific installation at Kraftwerk Berlin by pioneering American artist Robert Irwin (b. 1928, Long Beach). LAS brings one of the most prominent figures of the Light and Space movement to the centre of Berlin. Commissioned by LAS, the installation is the largest work by Irwin to be exhibited in Europe to date and forms part of the artist’s Light and Space series.

Over his prolific, six-decade career, Irwin has become best known for site-conditioned artworks that use the effects of light to explore human perception and use of space. An early proponent of site-specific installations, he creates large-scale experiential works, using minimal means that challenge our perceptions and reimagine our environments. As the artist puts it, ‘My ambition is, in a sense, to make you see a little bit more tomorrow than you saw today.’1 For Light and Space (Kraftwerk Berlin) Irwin intervenes in the impressive, industrialist architecture of Kraftwerk Berlin, taking over the entire space to fully immerse visitors in his ongoing experiments with light and space.

Irwin is a seminal figure of Light and Space, a loosely affiliated art movement, which originated in southern California in the 1960s as part of the radical cultural scene that was emerging on America’s West Coast over that period and that is characterised by its interdisciplinary approach, convergence of art and science and stepping away from object-centric practices. From the 1970s onwards, Irwin favoured a strictly site-specific approach in which he perceived art as closely shaped by the conditions of the surrounding space. It was at this time that Irwin began to work more extensively with fluorescent light. It is this core tenet of his practice, favouring experiential relationships with built environments, that Irwin brings to Berlin’s former power station.

Irwin’s Light and Space series was first conceived in 2007 and commonly features fluorescent light tubes arranged in rhythmic yet undecipherable abstract patterns on white walls with high finishes. Light and Space (Kraftwerk Berlin) uses blue fluorescent lights for the first time, in combination with the artist’s traditional white, positioned on a monumental freestanding wall measuring 16 x 16 metres. In another diversion from Irwin’s usual practice, Light and Space (Kraftwerk Berlin) is double-sided, making use of both sides of the freestanding wall. This new installation fills the former power station with light, prompting visitors to interrogate the very notion of perception itself.

Ever looking to the future, invested in the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration and a proponent of experiential relationships with built environments, Irwin’s practice and career mirrors LAS’s mission that foregrounds experiments and strives for radical approaches.

As Director of LAS, Bettina Kames, has said: ‘Our programme enables artists to realise their most ambitious artworks, so I’m thrilled that Light and Space (Kraftwerk Berlin) will be Robert Irwin’s largest project in Europe. Radical and forward-thinking, Irwin’s interdisciplinary practice – collaborating with everyone from James Turrell to NASA – chimes with LAS’s commitment to projects that intersect art, technology and science. We are also dedicated to making art accessible to all and Irwin’s experience-based approach – he pioneered the site-specific installations that are now so familiar – makes his work particularly approachable and transformative.’

1 Milton Esterow, ‘How Public Art Becomes A Political Hot Potato’, Art News 85, no.1 (January 1986): 79.

Robert Irwin (b. 1928, Long Beach, CA) lives and works in San Diego, CA. Solo exhibitions include those at Pratt Institute School of Architecture (2019), University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach (2018), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2016), Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2010), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2007), Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1998), Musée d’art contemporain, Lyon (1998), Reina Sofía, Madrid (1995), Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1994), Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (1994) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1993). Since the early 1970s, Irwin has created site-conditioned installations and major architectural and environmental installations at institutions worldwide, including Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX (2016), Dia:Beacon (2015), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2013), Vienna Secession (2013), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010) and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2009).

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