Robert Irwin's Scrim Veil--Black Rectangle--Natural Light, part of the Whitney’s collection and on view until September 1, felt to me as relevant today as it must have in 1977 when it first debuted at the Whitney.
The piece is beautiful in its simplicity and stripped-down minimalism, simultaneously highlighting the power of Marcel Breuer’s brutalist architecture while providing an experience too often missing from the contemporary art gallery, namely that of art interacting with natural light.
Scrim Veil functions successfully on many levels. The work functions at once as backdrop and object, splitting the large room on Whitney’s fourth floor in two, allowing passage beneath it (but not without the effort of bending) and both obscuring (and revealing) Breuer’s iconic fourth floor window. The artwork takes on its most magical quality when the space is activated. In the quiet, mystical light, the audience engages freely with the shadows of the space--a choreography without pre-defined goal. As I walked through the space I was reminded of Merce Cunningham’s philosophy in dance. His utilization of chance theory followed no particular narrative. Instead, the choreography acted as a set of parameters supporting the creativity or spontaneity of the resulting dance.
This is what is engaging about Irwin’s work: the space that the viewer is given simply to experience the work on his or her own terms, and the recognition that this experience itself is what most enriches the work.