IMA Commissions Site-Specific Installation by Robert Irwin in Honor of its 125th Anniversary
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IMA Commissions Site-Specific Installation by Robert Irwin in Honor of its 125th Anniversary

INDIANAPOLIS.- A three-story fluorescent light installation by Robert Irwin will be unveiled as a commission in honor of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 125th anniversary this October. As IMA’s newest and largest addition to its fast-growing contemporary art program, Irwin’s abstract sculpture—made of fluorescent light and scrim material—was specifically designed for the Museum’s main 60-foot atrium Pulliam Great Hall. The commission is funded through a gift in part by Ann M. and Chris Stack, longtime supporters of the IMA’s contemporary collection.

Robert Irwin’s Light and Space III will transform the experience of entering the Museum’s galleries. Created in response to Pulliam Great Hall, a 60x60-foot screen will stretch across three adjacent planes by the main escalators. A series of white floor-to-ceiling scrim panels will bracket five channels of fluorescent light mounted in a grid-like pattern across the wall surfaces. Visitors will be blanketed by a tunnel of light as they move between the three gallery levels of the IMA. The commission will be unveiled as part of a gala celebration in honor of the IMA’s 125th anniversary on October 11, 2008.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to commission a site-specific work by renowned artist Robert Irwin,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Its prominent location in the IMA’s Pulliam Great Hall ensures it will become a part of every visitor’s experience at the Museum. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the celebration of our 125th anniversary.”

The IMA’s robust contemporary art program is evolving as a model for encyclopedic museums as they engage the art of our time. With a renewed focus on its contemporary collection, the IMA has been actively seeking out the works of new and emerging artists through both gift and acquisition, and in addition to organizing major traveling exhibitions and commissioning sitespecific installations. In the past five years alone, IMA has received more than $17 million in endowment funds supporting its contemporary programming, an amount which is unparalleled for an encyclopedic museum in the United States.

“This new commission places work by one of the most important living American artists at the heart of our institution. Irwin’s abstract work comprised of light, scrim, and space demonstrates how versatile and transformative abstraction has become and how it can change the way we perceive our embodied relationship with what surrounds us,” said Lisa Freiman, senior curator of contemporary art at the IMA. “Irwin’s subtle yet powerful work is an ideal choice for a corridor that connects art from different cultures and time periods.”

Robert Irwin is one of the most pivotal artists in recent American history. He began his career working with abstract expressionist techniques and then investigated the premises of minimalism. Between 1966 and 1969, in an effort to create works that would “dissolve” into their environment, Irwin developed a series of now iconic untitled convex discs, such as the one included in the IMA’s permanent collection, that were meant to sit 72 inches above the ground against a blank white wall. The discs were evenly cross-lit with incandescent lamps (two in the ceiling and two on the floor) that created a symmetrical shadow pattern that appears to be approximately 10 feet high and wide. The final work consists of the wall, the shadow, and the disc itself, demonstrating a powerful “presence.” Irwin has since won an international reputation for his site-specific public works, which often make intimate use of site conditions, architecture, natural elements, plantings and topographic features. Irwin was born in 1928 in Los Angeles, and received his art education at Otis Art Institute, Jepsons Art Institute and Chouinards Art Institute. In the early part of his career, Irwin artist focused on Abstract Expressionist painting styles, but in the late 60’s he embarked on an extended exploration of an art outside the traditional frame and object, creating site-specific installations. Irwin’s more recent works include Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, the gardens at Dia: Beacon, and The Central Garden at the Getty Center.

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