Issue 36 May 2024

Issue 35 February 2024

Issue 34 November 2023

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Issue 32 June 2023

Issue 31 February 2023

Issue 30 November 2022

Issue 29 August 2022

Issue 28 May 2022

Issue 27 February 2022

Issue 26 November 2021

Issue 25 August 2021

Issue 24 May 2021

Issue 23 February 2021

Issue 22 November 2020

Issue 21 August 2020

Issue 20 May 2020

Issue 19 February 2020

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
–Claressinka Anderson & Joe Pugliese
Reviews April Street
at Vielmetter Los Angeles
–Aaron Horst

Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
–Julie Weitz

Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
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Issue 18 November 2019

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Children of the Sun
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
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Issue 17 August 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

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Issue 16 May 2019

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
–Matt Stromberg

Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
–Christie Hayden
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Issue 15 February 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Rosha Yaghmai
Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
–Jonathan Griffin

Sperm Cult
–Matt Stromberg

Kahlil Joseph
–Jessica Simmons

Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
–John Zane Zappas

Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
–Colony Little

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
–Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 14 November 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 13 August 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
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Issue 12 May 2018

Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with Christina Quarles Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
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Issue 11 February 2018

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
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Issue 10 November 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 9 August 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects


Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Issue 8 May 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter to the Editor
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Issue 7 February 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
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Issue 6 November 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
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Issue 5 August 2016

Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Exquisite L.A.
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
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Issue 4 May 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 3 February 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
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Issue 2 November 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
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Issue 1 August 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
Mateo Tannatt
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop
1301 PE
Anat Ebgi (La Cienega)
Anat Ebgi (Wilshire)
Arcana Books
Artbook @ Hauser & Wirth
Babst Gallery
Baert Gallery
Bel Ami
Canary Test
Carlye Packer
Charlie James Gallery
Château Shatto
Chris Sharp Gallery
Cirrus Gallery
Clay ca
Commonwealth & Council
Craft Contemporary
D2 Art (Inglewood)
D2 Art (Westwood)
David Kordansky Gallery
David Zwirner
Diane Rosenstein
François Ghebaly
Gana Art Los Angeles
George Billis Gallery
Giovanni's Room
Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Harper's Gallery
Hashimoto Contemporary
Heavy Manners Library
Helen J Gallery
Human Resources
in lieu
LaPau Gallery
Lisson Gallery
Louis Stern Fine Arts
Lowell Ryan Projects
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
MAK Center for Art and Architecture
Make Room Los Angeles
Matter Studio Gallery
Matthew Brown Los Angeles
MOCA Grand Avenue
Monte Vista Projects
Morán Morán
Moskowitz Bayse
Nazarian / Curcio
Night Gallery
Nino Mier Gallery
NOON Projects
O-Town House
One Trick Pony
Paradise Framing
Park View / Paul Soto
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
Regen Projects
Reparations Club
r d f a
REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater)
Roberts Projects
Royale Projects
Sean Kelly
Sebastian Gladstone
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
Smart Objects
Steve Turner
Stroll Garden
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
The Box
The Fulcrum
The Hole
The Landing
The Poetic Research Bureau
The Wende Museum
Thinkspace Projects
Tierra del Sol Gallery
Tiger Strikes Astroid
Tomorrow Today
Track 16
Tyler Park Presents
USC Fisher Museum of Art
UTA Artist Space
Various Small Fires
Village Well Books & Coffee
Outside L.A.
Libraries/ Collections
Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Bard College, CCS Library (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
Charlotte Street Foundation (Kansas City, MO)
Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis, MN)
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Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)
University of California Irvine, Langston IMCA (Irvine, CA)
University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Does it Move You?:
How to Look at Art, According to the Late Robert Irwin

Leer en Español

Robert Irwin with Light and Space (2007). Primaries and Secondaries, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 2007. 115 fluorescent lights, 271.25 × 620 inches. Museum purchase with funds from the Annenberg Foundation. © 2024 Robert Irwin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

In January 2016, I had the extreme and surreal pleasure of interviewing the late Robert Irwin, the groundbreaking Southern California artist who died last year at the age of 95. He chose the location—an ordinary McDonald’s in San Diego—and over the course of 90 minutes recounted the trajectory of his career. In 1970, he had abandoned his Venice Beach studio to pursue “site conditional art,” an itinerant practice of his own invention. For half a century, he traveled from place to place “to make work in response,” as he put it, devising often-temporary installations that highlighted the particular and overlooked beauty of the site. These works often deployed the simplest materials to render maximal effect, like a square incision into a window to bring the sea into a museum, or a diaphanous textile hung from the ceiling to give light a physical body. Irwin was associated with the Light and Space movement, a name that none of its exponents ever truly liked,1 but his lifelong contemplation of light’s ineffable qualities always struck me as a pious devotion to the sublime. Irwin put it more simply: “Part of my shtick is to make you aware of how fucking beautiful the world is.”

Irwin fundamentally redefined the possibilities of art, not only for me, but in the greater course of art history. I left our conversation convinced that artists must possess some superhuman gift of vision. But very recently, as I reread our transcription following news of his death, I had two major realizations: First, what I thought was a conversation was actually his standard art school lecture (many great examples of which are available on YouTube),2 and second, as a younger critic, I had such a superficial grasp on what he was saying that I missed the vast majority of the underlying meaning. In the most disarmingly simple terms, as he sketched on a McDonald’s napkin,3 Irwin presented all the mysteries that he had painstakingly unlocked: the truth of art as an incremental, open-ended endeavor, a lifelong process of following one’s curiosity into the unknown. He had constructed a philosophy that totally demystifies art criticism, cutting through the fog of artspeak, hype, and other distractions. His rubric for critically assessing art essentially came down to one question: Does the work move you or not?


Irwin’s McDonald’s lecture began with a brief and heroic account of modern art, wherein he described Kazimir Malevich unveiling his paintings of white squares in the early twentieth century: “His friends, not his enemies, said ‘My God Malevich, everything we know and love is gone.’” The underlying lesson here was that, once in a great while, when you find you can no longer move forward from where you are, the course of human progress necessitates a factory reset—“to begin again at the beginning,” Irwin wrote in Artforum in 2012, “which is the essential history of modern art.”4

Irwin’s practice began in 1950s Los Angeles with abstract expressionist painting, which by the following decade had evolved into the total dismantling of its constituent parts. “I took the pieces apart and examined every one,” he said, which began with stripping his canvases down to pairs of parallel lines. Irwin spent much of the early ’60s in a state of quiet contemplation, studying the fluctuating tension between these lines, testing what kind of energy ordinary paint could produce. His 1963 dot paintings remarkably capture his emphasis on physicality over imagery: Comprising an almost imperceptible haze of red and green dots, they read as blank canvases from afar, yet up close radiate a strange, seductive light. With these dot paintings, Irwin had disproven the necessity of mark-making, and his later disc paintings breached the conventions of the frame. This successive dismantling of painterly convention “took ten, fifteen years, but I finally dismantled the whole thing,” Irwin said, “not knowing what the result was, or where I would go.” And so in 1970, having actually dismantled his entire studio, “I put myself on the road.”

At this point in our conversation, the artist took a moment to recall unboxing a piece of Japanese ceramic raku ware, a seemingly tedious process of untying a bow, opening a box, and reaching into a drawstring sack. The underlying function, he found, was that by the end, “you’ve been brought down to a scale where suddenly a thumbprint becomes meaningful.” Although this aside felt insignificant at the time, it’s how I understand the trajectory of Irwin’s practice: the numerous but necessary steps of retraining one’s ability to see. Irwin had a remarkably straightforward description of his process. “You look at a thing and spend time with it,” he said, and after parsing out the overlooked minutiae that make it beautiful, you find ways to draw them out. He loved the translucence of scrim for the way it traces the contours of light as if it were a physical object, and in 1997, he hung a sheet halfway down from the ceiling of the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was, unfortunately, not well received. In the absence of traditional indicators of art—no images, no marks, no frames—visitors would enter, see a seemingly empty gallery, and immediately walk back out.5

The amazing thing I’ve found, however, is that the less conditioned you are to artistic conventions, the easier it is to read Irwin’s work. In 2016, I brought a friend to see All the Rules Will Change, Irwin’s survey at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. My friend had nothing to do with the art world and had never heard of Irwin, yet he had a remarkably easy time parsing the artist’s conceptual intent and clever jokes. My friend looked at Square the Circle (2016), a vast swath of scrim stretched across the curve of the museum’s circular architecture, and said “The wall is there but it’s not.” As he stood before a dot painting, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. To him, the energy radiating from it felt like “staring into a lightbulb.”

Robert Irwin with untitled (1969–70). Primaries and Secondaries, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 2007. Cast acrylic column. © 2024 Robert Irwin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.


In both Irwin’s worldview and in mine, anything could be art, and anyone can be an artist. His students at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts), UCLA, and UC Irvine included Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Chris Burden, and Vija Celmins, all of whom became groundbreaking artists whose works resembled neither his nor one another’s.6 He marveled at their range. “I never taught anyone to be this kind of artist or that kind of artist,” he told me, “but over a period of time, I taught them to understand where their strength lies.” That understanding is seemingly what he meant by his frequent references to “sensibility”—constants that define our singular engagement with and perception of the world. “We all have an intellect, but we also have a sensibility, and your sensibility is why you’re here.”

This is what I mean by a work moving you: Through the artist’s sensibility, you can feel their presence in their work. Sensibility has both psychic and visceral registers. There’s aesthetic signature, as in the high-precision, meditative realism of a Celmins painting, or the gestural paint handling of an artist like Ed Clark or Willem de Kooning. (“I could never do a stroke as good as de Kooning,” Irwin said. “His splatter was as accurate as the lace of a Vermeer.”) There’s also the conceptual sensibility of a distinct worldview, as in Burden’s lifelong exploration of masculine anxiety and pleasure. The litmus test of successfully expressing a sensibility—whether the work moves you—functions across all types of art, fashion, television, cinema, and beyond. Irwin admired car customization as a Southern California folk art: a functional object that bore the sensibilities of its owner. “It can be a whole description of a personality and an aesthetic,” Irwin said in The New Yorker in 1982. “You enhance it with your life.”7

The irony of Irwin’s approach to broadening art’s horizons is that it also narrowed my definitions of what art is. Often, when I see work in a gallery, I feel the acute absence of its sensibility. In those cases, I don’t question whether the work is good or bad, but whether it’s actually art at all. Setting Irwin as the bar for maximal artistic ambition offers a point of reference that clarifies what other works may lack. We can start with physicality. In his pursuit of the perpetually elusive qualities of energy and light, Irwin developed the quiet patience of a hunter. This is why he hated the photography of his work: “You read it too quickly.” Strangely, I see a lot of work that aspires to quick readings, likely meant to compete for attention in a world of digital pictures; these may look great on social media, but they feel underdeveloped in terms of technical handling, material understanding, or texture in real life. And where conceptual strength often expresses itself as psychic or emotional tension, art market forces—especially in our art fair-dominated era—tend to prefer the frictionlessness of the purely decorative. Conceptual gravitas is then outsourced to the contrived fiction of the press release, and artists are less likely to venture into the unknown, instead working within the limits of the comfortably familiar. All of this seems like a regression in artistic progress, and not the kind represented by modernism’s measured dismantling. Ad Reinhardt once said: “Art is art. Everything else is everything else.”8 Irwin estimated that 90 percent is everything else, and I tend to agree. “When you look around the art world today,” he told me, “it’s like they don’t know the rules of their own game.”


Contrary to my initial takeaway in 2016, artists are not those born with superhuman vision: “It’s just that an artist takes time tuning into their sensibility,” as Irwin put it. Tuning in means following one’s curiosity where it breaches the walls of all we know and love. What we call avant-garde comprises all the strange proposals that result from those breaches, and art history is all the contributions that withstood the canon’s repeated rejections, as well as the test of time. Indeed, time is an excellent filter, through which unmemorable work is inevitably forgotten. Recently, when I asked my friend if he remembered seeing Irwin’s show at the Hirshhorn almost a decade ago, his answer surprised me: “I think about it often,” he said, recalling his feelings of awe at the artist’s clarity and precision, and his simultaneous confusion as to what he was looking at.

Life is so long, and its possibilities are so vast. At the time of our interview, Irwin was 87 years old and was just finishing his magnum opus—untitled (dawn to dusk) (2016)—a project already sixteen years in the making. (Delays were related to fundraising and the artist’s desire to get it just right.9) Commissioned by the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, dawn to dusk is Irwin’s only permanent, freestanding installation, and perhaps the best work I’ve ever seen: a horseshoe of a building with two parallel hallways, one black and the other white, each with double sheets of scrim and long rows of eye-level windows running the entire length. The black hallway is a long and meditative descent into the depths of night, where the eye-level windows cut the landscape into a thin line, primarily framing the infinite sky. The sun travels alongside, periodically stretching its arms through the windows and nestling its rays on the surface of the scrim. At the end of the hallway is a short passage through a series of scrims that, depending on which side you begin, get progressively lighter, lifting you out of the darkness, or progressively darker, plunging you into it. At a certain point, they trigger the overwhelming, primal elation of greeting the first morning light, or profound, elusive memories of exiting the womb and arriving on Earth. When I visited in 2018 on a trustee field trip hosted by the Nasher Sculpture Center, the small contingent of Berlin-based artists and dealers called the work “good,” which was their way of saying they were deeply moved. At least two people cried.

If artistic practice is a road—or a black hallway, or the packaging of a raku cup—both destination and distance are unknown, but all the rewards lie on the road itself, and they often exceed the possibilities of the imagination. It’s taken six years for me to realize that Irwin’s Chinati installation was his rendering of the sunrise, free from the constraints of representation. Each rereading of our conversation illuminates a new lesson, and undoubtedly I will find more tomorrow. What a beautiful idea—that all the mysteries of life are already there in front of you, slowly revealing themselves as you approach. This is the greatest thing I learned from Robert Irwin: The only difference between the known and unknown is time, and there is always more to see.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 36.

Robert Irwin, Five x Five (installation view) (2007). Tergal voile, light construction, and framing materials. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Museum purchase with funds from the Annenberg Foundation. © 2024 Robert Irwin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Photo: © Philipp Scholz Rittermann.

  1. See, for instance: “Oral history interview with Mary Corse,” interview by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, August 10–December 14, 2013, Smithsonian Archives of American Art,; “Oral history interview Doug Wheeler, 2017 April 4,”  interview by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Smithsonian Archives of American Art,
  2. Stanford, “Robert Irwin: Why Art? – The 2016 Burt and Deedee McMurtry Lecture,” YouTube, March 29, 2016,
  3. Unfortunately, I did not save the napkin.
  4. Robert Irwin, “Robert Irwin,” Artforum, vol. 51, no. 1 (September 2012), robert-irwin-4-193318/.
  5. Randy Kennedy, “Back at the Whitney, Tinkering with Perception,” The New York Times, June 16, 2013, tinkers-again-with-perception-at-whitney.html.
  6. Michael Govan, “Robert Irwin Helped Us See the Light,” The New York Times, October 30, 2023, https://www. govan-appreciation-lacma.html.
  7. Lawrence Weschler, “I: Taking Art to Point Zero,” The New Yorker, February 28, 1982, https://www.newyorker. com/magazine/1982/03/08/i-taking-art-to-point-zero.
  8. “Ad Reinhardt,” David Zwirner, accessed April 12, 2024,
  9. Randy Kennedy, “Robert Irwin’s Big Visions, Barely Seen,” The New York Times, January 1, 2016, https://www.

Janelle Zara is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and the author of Becoming an Architect, a title in Simon & Schuster’s Masters at Work series. You can find her work in a variety of publications focusing on art, design, and architecture, including The Guardian, T Magazine, Artnet, and many others. Her favorite In-N-Out location is the one outside LAX.

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