Robert Irwin: Site Determined

January 28 – April 15, 2018

Robert Irwin: Site Determined is the first exhibition to explore four decades of the artist’s outdoor environmental projects through his drawings and architectural models. The campus of CSULB has the distinct honor of holding artist Robert Irwin’s first site-responsive public sculpture, Window Wall (1975). The work represents a key turning point in Irwin’s career, is one of Southern California’s artistic treasures, and is the departure point for the exhibition.

Starting with Irwin’s drawing for Window Wall, the exhibition traces the gradually widening scope of Irwin’s art through such ambitious projects as his Central Garden at the J. Paul Getty Center (1998), and one of Irwin’s most important site determined works to date in Marfa, Texas (2016). From one drawing to the next, and from one project to the next, the exhibition visitor will discover an expansion of aesthetic range as well as a gradually increasing chromatic freedom.

Robert Irwin is one of the most significant and prolific American artists of the postwar generation. Frequently associated with Light and Space Art, Irwin got his start in the 1950s as a Los Angeles-based abstract painter. He quickly began to question the conventions of painting including its framing devices. Irwin then “broke the frame,” turning to the ambient environment itself as his medium. He began in the early 1970s with a series of subtle interventions in art galleries and museums. In 1975, however, Irwin made the crucial step outside, engaging directly with the outdoor world. Site-determined art gets its start here with Irwin’s move beyond the traditional spaces of the art world and into the lived environment. Site determined art, writes Irwin, “draws all of its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings. This requires the process to begin with an intimate, hands-on reading of the site.” “A quiet distillation of all of this,” he adds, “determines all the facets of the ‘sculptural response.’”

The exhibition will take advantage of the 2017/2018 conservation of Window Wall. The piece was originally built in 1975 in response to an invitation from Connie Glenn, director of the University Art Gallery, and her museum studies students. Visitors will be encouraged to take the five-minute walk from the museum to the conserved sculpture after their visit to the exhibition, thereby supplementing their contemplation of Irwin’s plans and models with a direct encounter with Irwin’s earliest site determined outdoor sculpture.

Press Release for Robert Irwin: Site Determined

About curator Matthew Simms

Matthew Simms is a Professor of Art History at CSU Long Beach and holds a PhD in Art History from Harvard University (1998). He is the editor of Notes Toward a Conditional Art: The Writings of Robert Irwin (Getty, 2011). Simms also conducted a landmark oral history interview with Irwin under the auspices of the Archives of American Art, Washington, DC (2014). Most recently, Simms authored of the first scholarly monograph on Irwin’s art and career, Robert Irwin: A Conditional Art, published in 2016 by Yale University Press. 

Robert Irwin: Site Determined Curatorial Statement 

About the catalogue

Robert Irwin: Site Determined is the first book to focus on the role drawings and models have played in the artist’s creative process. It includes projects on college campuses; his major, yet never realized, commission for the Miami International Airport; the Central Garden at the J. Paul Getty Museum in LosAngeles; and the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, a monumental artwork that brilliantly connects viewers to the land and sky, and one of Irwin’s most ambitious works to date. Throughout this collection of drawings and models of magnificent, groundbreaking projects, readers will come to see Irwin as a visionary artist and talented draftsman.

It is published by the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach and DelMonico Books•Prestel. The richly illustrated catalogue includes historical and interpretive essays written by specialists on Irwin’s art. The authors include exhibition curator Matthew Simms, Ed Schad, and Sally Yard, with a foreword by UAM Director Kimberli Meyer.


Exhibition, publication, and programming funding was granted by the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studioes in the Fine Arts, Contemporary Collectors of Orange County, the Pasadena Art Alliance, the Port of Long Beach, the Arts Council for Long Beach, the City of Long Beach, and the Miller Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Museum Studies Program at the CSULB; the CSULB Instructionally Related Activities Fund; CSULB Associated Students, Inc.; the Ware Endowment; the Charles and Elizabeth Brooks Endowment; the Constance W. Glenn Fund for Exhibition and Education Programs; Dr. Ronald and Sylvia Hartman, Donna Mills, and Brian Cooke.

The “Window Wall” conservation project is made possible by generous funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Elaine Ridder, Tom and Barbara Peckenpaugh, Dr. Ronald and Sylvia Hartman, Michael and Susan Davis, Michael and Lynn Stearns, Helen and Stanley Molles, and Judy Ross. The UAM is also indebted to the Getty Conservation Institute, Rosa Lowinger and Associates, and Facilities Management at CSULB for partnering with us on the conservation.

Irwin sponsor logo block