ROBERT IRWIN: A DESERT OF PURE FEELING – A Review by Jenn Rohm
Now available for streaming, Robert Irwin: A Desert of Pure Feeling provides details on the life of a pioneer in the art world. This documentary takes us through the path of Irwin’s life and how his art changed as he changed.
While studying at the Otis Art Institute/Otis College of Art and Design and Chouinard Art Institute/California Institute of the Arts he was painting Abstract Expressionist pieces. In 1959 he connected with the Ferus Gallery. During his time with the circle of other Ferus artists, Irwin began to explore minimalism, installation, and sculpture. This led to him paving the path of the California Light and Space movement. His works became “site-conditioned” which requires the viewer to experience them. Use of space, light, scrim, and weather conditions outside windows in the area all play a part in one’s perception of what they are experiencing.
This film provides insight into what Irwin’s thoughts are with some of his more notable contributions. The Central Garden and the Getty Center in Los Angeles opened in 1997, and in 2016 Chinati Foundation opened untitled (dawn to dusk) in Marfa, TX.
The start of the film uses photos and film clips from Irwin’s life and where he was living. While the history in the images was of interest to me, I had issues keeping my attention on the story. Somewhere during the first half, I began to find it easier to maintain my focus on the story being told. With many of his works, you must be there in person and experience it for yourself. Great care was displayed in attempting to show some of his installations at different times of day from multiple points of view.
Having Irwin himself participate in the piece did help with connecting to the story. I do appreciate documentaries that can speak directly to those involved. Yes, prior interviews, clips, pictures, etc. were used in the story. As Irwin is a spry 90+ and still with us, it was nice to hear directly from him in his voice with his words.
After watching the film, I found myself searching for how far Marfa, TX is from Dallas (a little over 8 hr. drive) and planning out a road trip. In the meantime, I am lucky enough to live in a place with the only work Irwin agreed to and assisted in altering. Portal Park Piece was installed in John W. Carpenter Plaza in 1981. 2016 it was relocated and reconfigured in Carpenter Park. Irwin renamed it Portal Park Slice.
Director: Jennifer Lane
Written By: Jennifer Lane
Cast: Robert Irwin, Michael Govan, Tara Donovan
MPAA Rating: Not yet rated.
Selig Rating: 2.8 stars
Runtime: 1 hr. 33 min.
Release Date: October 20, 2023
Stream: Amazon, Apple TV
Movie Site: Robert Irwin: A Desert of Pure Feeling website
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.
4 Stars – Good movie/show
3 Stars – OK movie/show
2 Stars – Well there was nothing else…
1 Star – Total waste of time.