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Embeddedness: Robert Irwin in His Seventies

Virginia Quarterly Review | Thursday, Apr 17, 2008


    Window at Dia:Beacon in the Hudson River Valley.

Hard to believe how I myself am now older, older by far, than Robert Irwin was when we first began having our conversations, coming on thirty years ago. Fresh out of college, a classic, overstuffed instance of surplus education, I had been working at the UCLA Oral History Program, editing other people’s oral histories of various local luminaries in the context of an NEH-sponsored series, “L.A. Art Scene: A Group Portrait,” when, working my way through someone else’s interview with this artist I had up to that point barely even heard of (which, granted, said more about me at the time than about him), increasingly engrossed, I decided to hazard writing the guy a note, which read, in its entirety, “Have you ever read Merleau-Ponty’s The Primacy of Perception?” Whereupon there he came knocking at our door the very next morning. I’ve always felt that had I sent Irwin that note even six months earlier, he’d likely have dismissed it as so much hyperintellectualizing claptrap. But it just happened that he was at a point where he was going to be giving himself over to precisely that sort of reading for a while.

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