California Artist Robert Irwin Transforms a 1960’s Power Plant in Berlin into a Visual Feast
After gaining success as an abstract painter, California artist Robert Irwin famously abandoned studio-based work in 1970. He has spent the subsequent decades creating installations that make innovative use of light to attune the perception of architectural space. Last winter, Light Art Space, a foundation in Berlin that commissions works involving luminosity, mounted Light and Space (Kraftwerk Berlin), the largest installation the now 93-year-old Irwin has created in Europe. His chosen site was the turbine hall of a decommissioned 1960’s power plant formerly serving East Berlin. Irwin transformed the soaring 88,000-square-foot hall, which is flanked by colonnades of concrete pillars and elevated metal catwalks, by inserting a 52-foot-square plasterboard partition two-thirds of the way down its 315-foot length.
Nearly 60 installers from six different companies worked for a month to erect the partition, each side of which was festooned with 240 fluorescent tubes in a non-repeating geometric pattern—white on the front, blue on the back. (The structure incorporated 1 1/2 miles of electrical cables.) According to Irwin, any part of the space altered by the emitted light became a part of the work. “The installation—monumental, freestanding, bold—matched the gravity and moment of the vast space,” LAS head of programs Amira Gad notes. To engage younger viewers, the foundation collaborated with educational consultant Ephra on children’s programming, which included having them lie on the floor in front of Irwin’s installation and color posters printed with the gridded pattern.
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