1. Only a mind opened to the quality of things

    Only a mind opened to the quality of things, with a habit of discrimination, sensitized by experience and responsive to new forms and ideas, will be prepared for the enjoyment of this art. The experience of the work of art, like the creation of the work of art itself, is a process ultimately opposed to communication as it is understood now. What has appeared as noise in the first encounter becomes in the end message or necessity, though never message in a perfectly reproducible sense. You cannot translate it into words or make a copy of it which will be quite the same thing.

    1. ​The work is what it means​
    2. ​The medium is the message​
    3. ​What the painting was not about​
  2. The most incidental detail


    Black rakuware tea bowl (late sixteenth century), Kyoto, Japan. Freer Sackler Museum of Asian Art.

    For Irwin, the lesson of [the raku tea cups] was twofold: first, their presentation was important, insofar as the ceremony involved a gradual preparation of the audience's aesthetic attention. Then, when the time came to handle the cups, the intimacy of the experience fused visual and tactile sensations into a single continuum. As he also noted:

    he would set on the table this box with a beautiful little tie on it – very Japanese – and you untied it, you opened up the box, he let you do that. And then inside of it was a cloth sack. You took the sack out, and it had a drawstring, and you opened up the drawstring and you reached inside and took out the bowl. By that time, the bowl had you at a level where the most incidental detail – maybe even just a thumb mark – registered as a powerful statement.

  3. In a state of reverberation

    Irwin's terms of sudden, physical realization – bam! – call to mind the suddenly enlightening Zen slap or rap on the forehead. It also calls to mind [Philip Guston]'s own remark..."Look at any inspired painting...it's like a gong sounding; it puts you in a state of reverberation." Reverberation is another way of suggesting a kind of sudden, energetic, physical experience.

    1. ​I have pacified your mind​
    2. ​It's dark outside​
    3. ​Scraps of the brocade of autumn​
  4. Sort of underway by then

    He was sort of underway by then...he had this whole ritual for showing the work to people – you had to sit in a chair that was positioned what he felt was exactly the right distance from the painting. There was a certain mystique about it that worked for him.

  5. Untitled (Dot Painting)


    Artwork and detail.

    I took the surface of the canvas and curved it slightly in all directions, so slightly that you did not see it as being curved, but sensed its added physicality...The beauty of it for me was that you were not aware of it first as an idea, but only aware of it on this tactile level.

  6. Four essentially straight lines

    One of [Marvin] Silver's photographs shows Irwin checking the quality of a line, peering down its extent to verify that no distracting gesture of variation would attract the viewer's attention. Another has him standing on a milk crate to get a closer look at a line placed higher up on the canvas.

    "So I finally arrived at a painting with four essentially straight lines put on by hand," he recorded, "which was important. If I put them on too crudely, they were like the older paintings, having all that kind of emotive thing." But, at the same time, too much of a geometric look was also to be avoided: "If I put them on which I tried, like ruling them in a way, they had an image to them of geometry."

    Standing before Bed of Roses, the viewer quickly becomes aware of this absence of geometry as his or her own perceptual processes of grouping and sorting kick into action.

  7. Art as art

    If modern painting is "art as art," this means, to paraphrase Reinhardt, that is represents nothing and exists only in and for itself. If this has created an "art language, with an art communication," this is because this kind of art has implied all along a form of intimate contact with its viewer, in which the viewing of "art as art" becomes "sensation as sensation" or "perception as perception." This distinguishes "modern painting" from representational painting, which exhibits duality, that is, it uses imagery to refer to "past experiences and feeling," and to "color and reconstruct in the mind" associations that are meaningful, but that take the viewer far away from the specifics of the encounter with the painting before them.

  8. The art is what has happened to the viewer

    The art is the sensual involvement itself, not the thing that Irwin hangs on the wall. Consequently, as soon as the viewer turns his or her back, the "art" is over. Or, better, it potentially lives in different ways in each individual spectator's increased perceptual attentiveness. Leider stressed this point: "What stays in the museum is only the art-object, not valueless, but not the value of art. The art is what has happened to the viewer."

  9. Irwin Discs


    Irwin had begun his disc paintings with what, in retrospect, he described as a simple question: "How do I paint a painting that does not begin and end at an edge but rather starts to take in and become involved with the space or environment around it?"

  10. Irwin Acrylic Columns


    The column essentially disappeared into the space. It was there but it wasn't. As you walked around the room, suddenly, it might flash. Or, because I'd notched a little facet along one side, there might appear, for just an instant, a single white line, or a thin black glint.

    The column was an indication of my wanting to get out and treat the environment itself, I don't mean in the sense of building buildings or being an architect, but rather of dealing with the quality of a particular space in terms of its weight, its temperature, its tactileness, its density, its feel – all those semi-intangible things that we don't normally deal with.

  11. You are the one that is changed

    I tilt the room just enough, the space just enough that you may not be able to use your normal mode of placing yourself in that space, forcing you for one second to make a perceptual read and become aware that you are the perceiver and that all information comes through that perceptual act and that when you walk out of there, ...if you take that with you, you will begin to see things everywhere around you and that you are the one that is changed and you are there and that is what changed things.

    1. ​Irwin Volumes​
  12. The subtlest slightest kinds of differences

    Someone said to me the other day that there's nothing really ever new. That everything really repeats itself, you know, is repeating itself all the time, and they were showing me a Carl Andrew and they were also showing me some aborigine art and there really was a very strong similarity. And so I got to thinking about it and it came to me that if everything is really repeating itself constantly and that there's nothing ever really new...at the same time it's equally true that nothing is ever exactly the same. That everything is different every single time even though it's repeated constantly and all the same things keep passing through. They're never exactly the same so that the nature of change is not about something wholly new. It's actually about the subtlest slightest kinds of differences.

  13. I can only conceive for you

    I cannot perceive for you. I can conceive for you and we can then in a sense hold a general agreement about quality of conception and we may all operate under it and that's what is known as a common agreement. But the area of perceiving as such is totally individual, there's no way that we carry it in that sense.

    This is not an antisocial gesture; it is in fact a highly ethical one, since trying to get another person to see what and how you see has the potential to become a violation of the other's own autonomy:

    There is nothing more unethical than having ambitions for someone else's mind.

    1. ​Ambitions for someone else's mind​
  14. The here and now

    Irwin's ambition is to shift emphasis to the experience of the spectator of his art, identifying the process of looking, moving, and thinking, and looking again, as the actual art. That is, the aesthetic experience of the audience is the art, not the scrim or plasterboard. Irwin's installations, therefore, are problematic for the art world insofar as they take the here and now perceptual experience of the visitor as their subject matter, and exist only temporarily. They cannot be bought and sold, at least in principle, and they are sufficiently reliant on the space in which they are built that they cannot be transferred from one place to another.

  15. Irwin Volumes


    Black Line Volume, String Line-Light Volume, Corridor String Piece, Line Rectangle

    "The resultant black rectangle was not what you "looked at" – there was actually nothing to focus on – but soon it brought the space into focus with a distinct visual snap. From inside, the light in the area seemed different, more substantial, and the wall color began to shift ambiguously. From outside the area, the tape seemed to lift the plane of the floor upward in your field of vision, and it also made the room seem wider and shallower than it really was." — Roberta Smith

    1. ​You are the one that is changed​
  16. Continuing Responses

    Irwin also included as part of the expanding network of aesthetic experiences radiating out from the museum a series of what he termed "incidental" sculptures, or phenomena of perceptual interest...

    "Continuing Responses" began formally in the museum as a series of situations in direct response to the already existing spaces and their uses. At first easily accessible but then moving to consider more and more those previously unacknowledged and covert events. This project now moves outside the museum beginning with a window of the museum and then to include a series of "concrete" and "incidental sculptures" on sites throughout Fort Work and vicinity. These responses already number twenty-five and are referenced by a map of locations in the lobby of the museum.

  17. Four categories for public art

    Irwin proposed four categories for public art...based on the relationship of the art to its site:

    1. Site dominant (Moore, Calder): The public square of plaza is used as a pedestal for an enlarged version of a studio piece originally made without reference to the specific site.
    2. Site-adjusted (di Suvero): Still designed in the studio but was adjusted to the scale of the site during installation.
    3. Site-specific (Serra, Morris, Heizer, Smithson): Starts to take the specificity of the site into account, but for all intents and purposes remains a statement determined in advance by the artist's already recognizable style and materials.
    4. Site-conditioned or Site-determined (Irwin): "Takes all of its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings." ...Takes nothing for granted going into the project, not even a consistent style or set of materials.

    Arranged and condensed from original text.

  18. Conditional art

    [Conditional art] requires the process to begin with an intimate, hands-on reading of the site. This means sitting, watching, and walking through the site, the surrounding areas (where you will enter from and exit to), the city at large or the countryside...

    A quiet distillation of all this – while directly experiencing the site – determines all the facets of the "sculptural response".

    1. ​If removed from the place for which it was intended​
    2. ​To absorb it or build your own​
  19. What do we mean by consistency?

    I know some people are going to say: "Hey! That's Dan Flavin's act. Why in the hell is Irwin doing a Dan Flavin? Why is he suddenly so inconsistent – fluorescent one day and Cor-Ten the next?" The key to all of this is that we have to examples what we mean by consistency. And here the critical question is: "what do we use to measure consistency with?" If you measure consistency in terms of material, or gesture, then I will be found inconsistent. But, in all of the recent pieces and proposals, if you go to the actual site and look at it, you will find that the solution is absolutely consistent on the grounds within which it responds to its environment. This in turn is consistent with my development of the implications implicit in non-object art.

  20. Reversibility of perspectives

    Irwin's thinking was informed by the writings of Alfred Schutz, a follower of Husserl, ...[who] had noted that typification was at the basis of the assumption of the reversibility of perspectives, which was a condition for the possibility of intersubjective experience and the notion of a shared, commonly experienced world. It is also the first step in overcoming the specificity of the individual in favor of knowledge about groups. What is gained by this procedure is an understanding of demographics, but the cost of this understanding is a lack of emphasis on differences between individuals and their unique subjective experiences.

    1. ​You and your user are one​
  21. All the way to the last bolt

    "Quality is only there," Irwin explained, "if you pursue it all the way to the last bolt." Consequently, how joints are finished must be specified in the contract. "And believe me," he added ruefully from experience, "there is a real discrepancy here. The difference [in] how we interpret the word finish or this word quality is really disparate."

    "When you bring them in and get them to be part of it," he noted, "the workmen themselves start to take pride in it. And when they start taking that pride in this idea of quality, ...it starts becoming theirs, something important to them, that they in fact do know what we are talking about."

  22. Clarity and richness


    Sketches and plans for the Arts Enrichment Master Plan at Miami International Airport.

    New in Miami was the episodic structure, whereby a complex sequence of switches back and forth between these two kinds of attention would be orchestrated according to the shifting needs associated with the different spaces. Areas focused on clarity facilitate the achievement of practical objectives. Areas focused on art, conversely, facilitate a diversity of overlapping configurations and sensory richness. Art in the wrong place, therefore, causes confusion precisely where clarity needs to take precedence; and clarity in areas where the visitor has time to linger and enjoy aesthetic richness is a lost opportunity.

  23. Both practical and aesthetic concerns


    The group [of Irwin, Howard, and Wortz]'s thinking here seems to have been influenced to a degree by Christopher Alexander's landmark article, "A City is Not a Tree" (1965)...

    Irwin referred specifically to Alexander's argument in his effort to sort out his own thinking about how the Miami International Airport might be designed with both practical and aesthetic concerns in mind, allowing for their overlap and emergence from the conditions on the ground.

    1. ​A City Is Not a Tree​
  24. Photogrids


    Irwin made grids of photographs he had taken in the local environment of Miami and South Florida in order to indicate the site-determined nature of this project as well as to show the kinds of plants, flowers, and trees his gardens would include. These grids are works of art in themselves in the way in which they organize and group environmental elements.

    1. ​ImageQuilts​
  25. The differences in intentionality

    [Marc] Treib summarized Irwin's views on conditional art as follows: "One does not start with a personal vocabulary or manner to be adapter to each situation. Thus, given the differences in intentionality between art and design, the artist and the designer will 'plow different furrows seemingly in the same field.'" This is an important point since it gets at the difference that Irwin sees between art and design, the first of which is predicated, as he says, on the opportunity to deal with each situation freely and without constraints, and the latter, which is restricted in many ways from the outset by functional, stylistic, and economic concerns.

  26. The ideas up there

    The relationship between Meier's overarching rational design, on the one hand, and the conditional relationships in the garden, on the other, was a constant reference point for Irwin...

    [Meier] had this whole geometry, and in some cases it is invisible. He will say this line has to go through here because it matches that one up over there. In my mind, I am standing here, I can't see that over there. I can only see this, this, and this. So I would make the decision much more based on the interfaces I am involved with rather than some idea up there.

  27. An index of the shifting patterns

    "Because this is a garden where things can be left out at night without being stolen, we're going to 'furnish' the garden with French café chairs that won't be secured in the ground, so people can move them to wherever they want to sit...It's like with the chairs being totally casual and relaxed and comfortable. They set a tone. There's things that you have to do to get the right feel, where it's all already there, but then, you know, 'Bing!' – there's a moment of recognition." The patterning of chairs pulled together in different ways by successive waves of visitors over the course of the day becomes an index of the shifting patterns of people that sit in a variety of arrangements to facilitate conversations and other intersubjective alignments, or simply to allow for a moment of private contemplation free from contact with others.

    1. ​251. Different Chairs​
  28. The plan has its own plan

    Incidental accumulations of individual perceivers along the path or on the terrace do not constitute stable aesthetic communities, but pluralities of crisscrossing, irreducibly singular aesthetic perspectives that are, to recall Irwin's inscription, "ever present," yet "never twice the same."

    ...As Irwin has explained: "I go back to the garden constantly and it's always doing something I didn't anticipate. It's always better than I thought. It's like I make this plan and then it has its own plan and it's a thrill."

  29. Excursus: Homage to the Square^3


    I'd been talking about this idea of a conditional art for a very long time, and what I did was actually accomplish it, the idea that there was not a normal structure to it, that every decision had to be intuitive or instinctual or tactile. You decide to go this way or that way, but there was no beginning, no middle, and no end and so there's no hierarchical structure to it at all. And at the end of it, I mean, after you wander for a while, you just ended it yourself because there was no solution to it.

    In response to Irwin's own self-questioning: What would a non-hierarchical order look like? How would it work?

  30. Frosted and transparent


    Irwin's window arrangement at the Dia:Beacon.

    In addition to managing the flow of people in the spaces of the museum in order to maximize freedom of movement and choice, Irwin also modified the industrial window grids to create perceptual ambiguity, placing transparent glass in the inner four panes while using frosted glass for the outer panes. With this, Irwin solved the problem of either having the windows become a wall of glaring light, if all transparent glass was used, or having them become a claustrophobic muffling of space, if all frosted glass was used. Irwin's windows catch the eye in a back and forth oscillation between distant and proximal focus.

  31. They wanted a monument

    One of the responsibilities for an architect is to provide a space that is usable and enhances the possibilities for what you do. But mostly, museums are just the opposite; they're horrible spaces, anti-art, they can't be used. They can't function, they overwhelm it. So in a way, they become objects in themselves many times, almost sculptures, and they get a lot of aggrandizement out of it...In terms of Bilbao, the one difference there is that they did not really want a museum, they wanted a monument. They wanted a thing that would bring people to the Bilbao.

  32. Doing nothing with precision

    For his part, Gehry has noted in defense of his recent museum extravaganzas: "artists want to be in an important building, not a neutral one." At Dia:Beacon, Irwin pursued the opposite logic. As Govan has pointed out: "The money was spent to make it look like nothing was done to the building." Or, as a partner from Open Office observes: "We talked often about the idea of doing nothing with precision. Do it right and they'll never know we were here." As one critic has written, what the result showed was, as he puts it, "Irwin's unwavering conviction that museum spaces should serve the art and not the other way around."

  33. Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, & Blue^3


    Lawrence Weschler:

    The red, for example, wasn't simply red – or rather it was: the surface was covered over in a completely even gloss of lipstick red paint – but (had it been doing that before?) the panel was reflecting ambient conditions like crazy, so much so that in fact almost none of the surface, strictly speaking, was red. Pool-like, it was reflecting the yellow ceiling panel beyond, whose own color was in turn being affected by the blue floor piece beyond that. There were purple effects and green, a sort of even bruise-brown hovering over the entire array when one now viewed the gallery from the side.

  34. When the phenomena are endless

    "There can be no description or theory of color per se," Irwin insists, "when the phenomena are endless." The notion that color can be reduced to a series of codes, to a grammar, or to a form of "mathematics," to use Wittegensetein's term, is, for Irwin, nonsense, since color is dependent on context and ground-up perceptual experience. Beginning with color codes or concepts was to reduce in advance an infinitely wide range of phenomena to a limited set of categories, editing out all specificity in favor of abstraction.

  35. Irwin Fluorescents


    In order: Kenny Price, Blue Lou, Legacy, Fourfold, Niagara.

    Irwin has explained that he decided to use the fluorescent tubes in the "dumbest" way possible, but, as one critic cautioned, "dumb, it turns out, has a special meaning for him: It's a form so simple that you end up not paying attention to it as a form." Irwin's interest was, rather, in the range of light, color, reflection, and shadow interaction made possible by combining tubes with different hues and finishes by wrapping them with theatrical gels.

    1. ​Interaction of Color​
  36. 1º2º3º4º


    Because the approach to the room is along a long corridor, the attentive visitor might at first think that three light squares had been affixed to the windows or, as one gradually came closer, that the tinting of the windows had simply been removed in these three lighter near-square areas. Davies continues: "only at this point do the other senses kick in. The visitor begins first to hear and smell the ocean and then to actually feel the outside air entering the gallery; this sensory experience is in complete contradiction to the faulty first impression."

    1. ​The inhumanity of contemporary architecture​
  37. Stands up and hums

    The ruin [at Marfa] itself, in fact, set the terms for the kinds of solutions Irwin would propose, since its absent roof and floor, and its shockingly wide-open sequences of windows, which overlap and align with one another from different points of view on the site, already presented a rich, thoroughly keyed-up set of perceptual events before Irwin ever considered the project. It was already one of those sites that, in Irwin's words, "stands up and hums" thanks to the rich quality of their perceptual phenomena.

    1. ​Economy of line​