Robert Irwin: Scrim Veil — Black Rectangle — Natural Light’ at Whitney Museum of American Art
by Andrew Russeth
The work has few components. A white polyester scrim runs the length of the space, from the trapezoidal window overlooking Madison Avenue to the far wall. It reaches from the ceiling to exactly five and a half feet from the floor. A three-inch-tall stretch of black aluminum runs along its base, and a three-inch-thick black line has been painted along the perimeter of the room’s walls, also five-and-a-half feet above the floor. And that’s it. The only light in the room comes from Breuer’s famous window, so that it hits one side of the scrim and gently cascades down the length of the room, creating a grayscale gradient, from bright white near the window to almost pitch black at the opposite end of the room. The light changes tone depending on which side of the scrim you stand on, and from some vantage points that long wash of light even gives off hints of color: dashes of light purples, maybe some greens. It feels like you are seeing with fresh eyes, with a new clarity that is at first intensely disorienting. Stepping off the elevator I felt a momentary shot of fear, unable to decipher the odd cascade of light I was seeing on the scrim. Even once I adjusted, the aluminum bar and wall-painted line continued to keep me off balance as I walked through the space, never quite overlapping in my field of vision. They bobbed up and down as I walked, charting almost imperceptibly my position in the gallery.