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Irwin vs. Hockney

November 6, 2008
Homage to the Square3

Robert Irwin, Excursus: Homage to the Square3

(from The Believer) “I’ve never met Irwin,” he noted, “though I’ve of course been quite aware of his work, as what artist, especially here in L.A., wouldn’t be?” Already then, Irwin was regarded as one of the most significant artists and thinkers on artistic practice anywhere in the country, at least among fellow artists (though his reputation was considerably less well established among the public at large); within a few months he would become the first visual artist to be awarded one of the MacArthur Foundation’s so-called genius grants. “I mean,” Hockney continued, “I’ve observed his progress, though at times that was by no means easy, and for the longest time I felt that his position on the photographing of his work”—a flat prohibition, as it happens (which is one of the principal reasons he was so much less well known among the public at large)—“was pretty preposterous, and somewhat fetishistic.” Irwin for his part accounted for that absolutist injunction by arguing that a photograph could capture everything that the work was not about (which is to say its image) and nothing that it was about (which is to say its presence), so why bother?

Hockney paused and took a drag on a cigarette before going on to confound me entirely: “The thing is,” he now said, “with time I’ve come to see that Irwin was right about that ban on photographing his work; I wish I’d imposed a similar ban regarding my own from the outset.” (This from an artist whose work was more photographed and more ubiquitously visible in the world than that of just about anybody else, with the possible exception of Andy Warhol!) “I mean, no one can come upon one of my paintings in a museum, say, and simply see it; instead they see the poster in their college dorm or the dentist’s office or the jacket on the book they are reading, all sorts of second-rate mediations getting in the way of experiencing the work as if from scratch.” (read the rest)

David Hockney, East Yorkshire watercolor, 2004

David Hockney, East Yorkshire watercolor, 2004

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