Robert Irwin's landmark site-specific work Excursus: Homage to the Square3 exemplifies the artist's practice of creating environments that bring attention to spatial relations and the subtleties of perception. This presentation is the artist's first at Dia:Beacon—a building and grounds whose master plan he designed—and it upholds hispivotal explorations of the interconnectedness of art and architecture.
Excursus: Homage to the Square3 is made possible by lead support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Cindy and Howard Rachofsky. Major support is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston and Dia’s Commissioning Committee: Marguerite S. Hoffman, Jill and Peter Kraus, and Leslie and Mac McQuown. Additional support is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency, and Pace Gallery.
Robert Irwin’s Excursus: Homage to the Square3 was originally commissioned by Dia for its former space at 548 West 22nd Street in New York City. The installation opened in April 1998 with the title Prologue: x183 and consisted of eighteen interconnected rooms set apart by transparent scrims. Irwin also covered the gallery windows with blue and gray theatrical gels, invoking a subtle color palette that changed in tone through shifts in natural light. He reconfigured Prologue that summer, adjusting the point of entry, installing vertical fluorescent tubes in each room, and introducing an intensity of vivid colors into the work. Retitled Excursus: Homage to the Square3, the second version has become a seminal work for Irwin, which Dia acquired in 2000. For this new installation at Dia:Beacon, the artist redesigned Excursus to engage with the museum’s architectural and lighting specificities, a technique he has articulated as “site-conditioned,” in which “the sculptural response draws all its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings.”
Irwin began his career in the 1950s as an abstract painter; however, he turned his attention to sculptural installations by the early 1970s. Irwin’s discovery of scrim while on a trip to Amsterdam in 1970 was pivotal to this transition and provided the conceptual means to both eclipse object-based production and intervene in the architectural conditions of a given space. That same year, he created his first installation with the evanescent fabric, Fractured Light—Partial Scrim Ceiling—Eye Level Wire, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This work concretized his interest in creating “conditional art” that makes the environment the form and, by doing so, heightens one’s perception of a space.
Realized almost thirty years later, Excursus: Homage to the Square3 furthered Irwin’s exploration of scrim-defined installations and marked his philosophical ambition to create a work that is nonhierarchical in form, encouraging a mobile style of viewership. “The thing is not frontal,” he has remarked, “not linear, not sequential, there’s no beginning, middle or end. You could, essentially, enter anywhere.”
And, as its subtitle suggests, the work supports the influence of painting on his practice by invoking color relationships adapted from the renowned series by Josef Albers (1888–1976). As stated by Irwin, Excursus extends Albers’s investigations of treating color as “a kind of infinite possibility.”
The presentation of Excursus at Dia:Beacon is particularly resonant, for Irwin was deeply involved with the museum’s design, including its exterior public spaces, main entryway, and windows. Moving from the work’s redesigned scrim chambers, through the building’s subtle spatial interventions, and finally to the landscaped gardens and forecourt, visitors have the unique opportunity to experience an environment of which virtually every facet has been touched by the artist.
Robert Irwin was born in Long Beach, California, in 1928. He died in San Diego, California, in 2023.