Having just marked his 87th birthday, American artist Robert Irwin has touched down in London for his latest solo exhibition at White Cube’s Bermondsey outpost. The show, entitled ‘2 x 2 x 2 x 2’, unites three different bodies of work, including fluorescent tubes, a diptych and a pair of transparent plastic columns.
A pivotal member of the Light and Space movement, which originated in the West Coast, Irwin molds light but not as you would expect it. Leading the exhibition, the artist presents a sequential series of coloured fluorescent lights, placed vertically along the wall. Measuring 7 x 8 feet each, they are cocooned in hued gels, the sparse offering of colour immediately drawing the eye in.
Nearby, a new diptych – Black Painting (2015) – has notes of Josef Albers and Barnett Newman, but reads more like a tribute to Kazimir Malevich’s 1913 piece, Black Square. Reflective lashings of urethane paint and lacquer on honeycomb aluminium both mirror the viewer while drawing them into a sinister abyss - there’s a curiousness to this contradiction.
White Cube’s 9 x 9 x 9 gallery, meanwhile, holds court to a ghostly duet of crystal-clear acrylic columns. Although supposedly conceived as early as 1969, the works look hyper-futuristic in the pristine white space. Irwin has described his columns as perching sitting ‘on a delicate edge’, adding: ‘You don’t think about whether it’s art or not art. It’s just about what you’re seeing or not seeing.’
Irwin’s immaculately conceived works offer a perfect foil to Cerith Wyn Evans’ frenetic neon designs in the adjacent South Galleries. These two wildly differing shows form a fascinating symbiosis that brings light into sharp relief.