MCASD Mourns Loss of Noted Artist Robert Irwin, Who Died in San Diego at 95

Artist obituary
Robert Irwin’s “Spanish Fan,” at MCASD. Photo credit: collection.mcasd.org

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego mourned artist Robert Irwin‘s death this week, calling his work “foundational to a certain West Coast minimalism.”

Irwin, a longtime resident of San Diego, died Wednesday at 95.

“His legacy,” here “will live on,” according to a statement released by MCASD Director and CEO Kathryn Kanjo.

“Robert Irwin’s passing will be felt across the art world and is especially poignant in our
community and at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego,” she said. “His work is foundational to a certain West Coast minimalism, referred to as Light and Space. Deeply engaged with the limits and nuances of perception, he complicated the boundaries between art and its environment, coining the term, site-conditional.”

Or as Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight put it, “perception crystalized through light within the complex structure of a specific space, home to its merit and meaning, was the critical consequence of Irwin’s artistic practice.”

Irwin started as an abstract painter, then shifted to sculptures and large-scale installations, including outdoors in streets and gardens.

The 1984 MacArthur Fellow’s association with MCASD stretched back decades, and “can be felt throughout our galleries and in our hearts,” Kanjo said.

He first had a solo exhibition at MCASD in 1969 and a career retrospective in 2007, while the museum maintains the largest holdings of Irwin’s artwork. It includes his early abstract
canvases, drawings and public art proposals, and several installations.

More than one dozen of his works are on long-term view at the expanded La Jolla MCASD site. In September 2021, just prior to the museum’s reopening, Irwin oversaw the placement of Spanish Fan (1995), a glass sculpture in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Kanjo called the work, a gift from the artist, “a permanent reminder of his talent and generosity.”

Another MCASD holding of Irwin’s, described by Kanjo as “one of the artist’s most beloved and recognizable site-conditional installations,” 1° 2° 3° 4°, required cutting into the gallery’s windows, the director said, “opening the interior space to the exterior beyond. Light, air, sea and sound blend in visual, spatial and sensorial wonder.”

The work, she concluded “reflects so many of the unexpected ways in which Irwin makes us ever more aware of the world around us.”

In addition to San Diego, Irwin’s art has been a part of installations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Washington D.C. and featured in museums around the world, including Paris and Madrid.