By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Both of these are terrific, but Five x Five, a work of brilliant simplicity, should be remembered as a defining piece in Irwin’s career. Comprising two groups, each of five large framed scrims in parallel arrangement, the piece gives literal form to the sorts of atmospheric-perspective devices commonly used in illusionist painting and in theater (also by way of scrims) to simulate the actual phenomenon of objects appearing more fuzzy and dim in the distance. Here, however, with the scrims spaced apart just enough for viewers to walk between, the atmospheric effect is compressed, and stepped in a manner that confounds expectation. Imagine night falling, or a fog bank rolling in, with even, incremental layers.
Most profound is what the work does to one’s sense of personal and public space — the way the divided room allows you to all but rub up against a stranger and yet feel comfortably distant, as if in a whole other realm, or the way that it pits your perception of distance by estimation of scale against that based upon light and atmosphere, so that the people around you appear simultaneously near and far.
At any of these shows, you’re likely to witness, if not directly experience, something rarely seen at even the most socially conscious and community-oriented of exhibitions — actual strangers turning to one another and having earnest and intelligent conversations about what they see. In its promotional material for The Weather Project, the Tate quoted the 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson, who famously remarked, “It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.” Johnson might as well have been commenting on 20th-century Californians, for what lies beneath the idea that in conversing about the weather, strangers telling each other what they already know, is the fact that in so doing, they discuss, in the most immediate and intimate sense, that which they share regardless of culture — their awareness of presence in the here and now amid the phenomena of a shifting world. The most profound social, and even political, implication of such experience, understood by Eliasson, Turrell and Irwin, is that in moments of such shared phenomenological inquiry, we begin to understand who and where we are.
“Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson” at SFMOMA, 151 Third St., San Francisco; Fri.–Tues. 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m., Thurs. 11 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (415) 357-4000 or www.sfmoma.org.
James Turrell at Pomona College Museum of Art, Montgomery Art Center, 333 N. College Way, Claremont; Tues.–Fri. noon–5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 1–5 p.m.; Jan. 22 thru May 17. Skyspace, permanently installed at the Draper Courtyard, Pomona College (corner of Sixth St. & College Way), Claremont; always open, but visitors invited Sun.–Mon. 10 a.m.–8 p.m. (909) 621-8283 or www.pomona.edu/museum.
“Robert Irwin: Primaries and Secondaries” at MCASD, 1100 & 1001 Kettner Blvd., San Diego; Sat.–Tues. 11 a.m.–6 p.m., Thurs.–Fri. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; thru Feb. 23 at 1100 Kettner, and thru April 13 at 1001 Kettner. (858) 454 3541 or www.mcasd.org.