From lines to dots, from dots to discs, from discs to columns, then to further experiments, Robert Irwin has always been in his practice of “answering questions.” As the book reads, which I find as the most inspiring quote in this reading, “there is a dialogue of immanence…that certain questions become demanding and potentially answerable at a certain point in time, and that everyone involved on particular level of answering questions….is essentially involved in the same question.”
Like other field of studies, art evolves with the time. In Orthodox Marxism, the base determines the superstructure in a one-way relationship. Researches of all fields, in their own ways, are all “engaged in the process of inquiry” toward the essential question raised by their generation. Through this, we could have a deeper understanding of art: The value of contemporary art could only be processed and appreciated under the context of contemporary environment. The reason why Duchamp’s Fountain becomes the masterpiece in contemporary art not because of the urinal itself, but because the creation process and the concept behind it matches the spirit of the generation.
Another interesting point worth discussing is the relationship between art piece and the audience. Several times has the book mentioned audiences’ reaction to Irwin’s installations – the young couple who teased about the painting in Philadelphia Museum of Art, the outrageous audience in São Paulo Art Biennial who destroyed Irwin’s dot painting, the confused audience in Witney retrospective who thought the space installation was an empty room.
This isn’t something uncommon when we go to an exhibition, especially those related to contemporary art. Recalling my first time in Moma seeing Mark Rothko’s color field painting, I was just like the young couple, couldn’t help but thinking “is this art, just two blocks of color?” Driven by the stereotype of art being easel paintings, people usually leave museums feeling confused and unsatisfied.
The reading provides a very helpful explanation to this phenomena: “If we define art as part of the realm of experience, we can assume that after a viewer look at a piece, he “leaves” with the art, because the ‘art’ has been experienced…. the experience is the ‘thing,’ experiencing is the ‘object.'” And this explanation also prompts me to refer back to the concept of “artworld” by Arthur Danto. The concept of art expands from merely the “art object”, which is what stays in the museum. The venues like museum actually functions as part of the cultural context, or “an atmosphere of art theory.” And the value of art is only created and exists when it successfully “happened” to the viewers and when the viewers are able to understand the cultural context behind the art-object. With that being said, when a viewer having no idea about the meaning behind an art object, there is no value of art created during the time he/she spends in the museum.