Robert Irwin, untitled (dawn to dusk), courtyard, 2016

Robert Irwin

untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016

In July 2016, the Chinati Foundation opened a new large-scale artwork by Robert Irwin. It is the only permanent, freestanding structure conceived and designed by Irwin as a total work of art.

Irwin had been developing and refining a design for the long-abandoned former army hospital site since 1999. Situated adjacent to the museum’s campus, the site was a C-shaped concrete structure, lined on all sides with a long sequence of windows that surrounded a central courtyard.

The newly constructed building is cut into the existing slope, retaining the same physical relationship as the former building. Antechambers to the right and the left are open to the sky—referencing the historic structure’s previous ruined state. The former site had long been floorless, its windowsills eye-level. The raised windowsills of the new building echo this, offering what Irwin described as “Dutch landscape-like” views of the surrounding West Texas land and sky.

The building is formally divided in half, with one side dark, the other light. Inside, transparent scrim walls are stretched taut from floor to ceiling in black or white respectively, bisecting each long wing and capturing the always-changing natural light. The connecting corridor has a progression of scrim walls that sequentially cross and fill the space, with an enfilade of doors for passage.

The courtyard has been made into a garden defined by concrete paths running along Corten steel-lined raised beds and two rows of honey mesquite trees. Niches with benches flank the central planter, where Irwin has created a tableau of large basalt columns.

The completed work fuses indoors and outdoors, art and architecture, the past and the present, nature and the man-made. It is also Irwin’s largest work to date, and represents the culmination of his decades-long investigation into the act of perception through manipulation of space and light.

Robert Irwin was born in 1928 in Long Beach, California and passed in 2023. Representative works by Robert Irwin and notable museum exhibitions include Robert Irwin: All the Rules Will Change, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2016); Double Blind (2013), Secession, Vienna, Austria; Robert Irwin: Primaries and Secondaries, Museum of Cotemporary Art, San Diego, 2007; Double Diamond (1997–98), Musée d’art contemporain, Lyon, France; Fractured Light – Partial Scrim—Eye Level (1970–71), Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Scrim Veil— Black Rectangle—Natural Light (1977), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.  A retrospective of Irwin’s work was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1993, which traveled to the Kölnischer Kunstverein, the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofía.

Robert Irwin designed the Central Garden at the Getty Center, Los Angeles in 1997; developed the master plan for Dia:Beacon (2003); and created a palm garden for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010).

Permanently sited public works include: untitled (Filigreed Steel Line for Wellesley College), (1980), Wellesley, Massachusetts; Portal Park Piece (slice) (1981), Dallas, Texas; Two Running Violet V Forms (1983), the Stuart Collection at the University of California, San Diego; 9 Spaces 9 Trees (1980–83), University of Washington, Seattle; and Light and Space I I I (2008), Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana.