Made specifically for the Museum’s fourth floor, Robert Irwin’s Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1977) engages the Whitney’s iconic Breuer building and the light emanating from the gallery’s oversize window. Opening on Thursday, this exhibition presents a unique opportunity to view a work that, per the artist’s direction, may be shown only in this setting.


Getting off the elevator on the fourth floor of the Whitney Museum, the scale and expanse of Robert Irwin’s “Scrim Veil — Black Rectangle — Natural Light” swept up this viewer’s senses. Moments later, while observing the work from left to right, the black border in the massive gallery’s central scrim began darting about. The sensation felt akin to being beamed up on stage in a theatrical production. Thoughts turned to performance art. We the visitors as part of Light and Space artist Irwin’s 1977 piece, reinstalled at the Whitney Museum of American Art for its second-ever appearance in the summer of 2013.

Approaching the scrim produced more linear tricks of the eye, as both the scrim border and black line looping the gallery walls behind it moved towards this visitor and up and down. Then a subplot revealed itself — one of the Marcel Breuer building’s signature windows, stage left, was a main player in the piece. Unveiled for the Irwin exhibit, the trapezoidal window is sometimes screened for other shows to produce a certain quality of light. For “Scrim Veil — Black Rectangle — Natural Light” the plain light of day was central, changing the nature of the art work and gallery space itself as the day progressed.

— Valerie Seckler

Photo by Valerie Seckler, @vaseckler, July 20, 2013, 11:40 a.m.