Robert Irwin responded to Dia's invitation to make an exhibition in its facility at 548 West 22nd Street with a proposal for a two-part, site-determined installation. Prologue: x18³ opened April 12, 1998, and closed June 14, 1998. Excursus: Homage to the Square³ will be presented from September 13, 1998, through June 13, 1999.
Irwin selected the third floor of the converted warehouse to capitalize on the extensive natural light that illuminates this space from both the front and back of the building. Originally proposing a work that, in its first part, would draw exclusively on daylight, the veteran Californian artist later modified his initial conception during the course of its realization to incorporate electric light into each of the eighteen cubic chambers comprising the installation. Prologue: x18³ heightened and refined the viewer's apprehension of the site by the subtle interplay between his three modes of intervention: the chambers made of scrim, whose configuration and openings were determined by the beam structure of the ceiling and the disposition of the columns; the grid of fluorescent lights positioned on the fabric walls on the north-south axis; and the gels on the windows, which delicately modified and filtered the natural light. The interaction of these different but interrelated elements in the site (whose physical and structural irregularity and quirkiness revealed itself only gradually and differently under variable weather conditions) honed the spectator's scrutiny, refining recognition that one's experience will be governed as much by time as by space, by contingency as by circumstance, by change as much as by that which is given.
Excursus: Homage to the Square³ builds on this intense, phenomenologically based engagement, while shifting the focus subtly from the locus, the site in its widest sense, in order to create a more hermetic situation in which color becomes the principal agent: light is now materialized hue. To effect this reorientation, Irwin placed a pair of fluorescent lights on every scrim, illuminating each bay differently by means of a singular tonal and color combination. He also imprinted a barely discernible band of a slightly darker tone on every scrim at eye-height and correspondingly modified the gels on the windows. In addition, he moved the point of entry to the center of the room by introducing a door midway along the west wall of the installation.
As indicated in the title, in this second part Irwin extends into three, or even four, dimensions the investigation into color and color relationships that was the focus of a series of abstract paintings by Joseph Albers, which create optical space through a refined juxtaposition of closely related, barely familiar, yet highly particular tertiary hues. It indicates, too, that for all its apparent distance from more conventional genres, Irwin's work maintains a telling connection with the central traditions of twentieth-century art.