No Habituation at 1°2°3°4° by Robert Irwin

Frame what you see…Look up and beyond…Learn about yourself…

Six months ago when I published my first post, I recognized these as axes underpinning my personal grid.

I have always looked intently.

I love to learn.

Yet what triggered this blog was really the need to frame it all in my eyes, my mind and my life. Along came the hope that others would get it (get me!) and perhaps go see and look a bit more.

Writing became a way to crystallize it all while facilitating the sharing element.

It was no accident that I chose Robert Irwin’ s caged bougainvillea trees at the Getty Museum as opening picture to my first blog post then.

Now at my 6-month mark of weekly publishing, I am thinking about another Robert Irwin’s masterpiece. This one I use like others use prayer beads.

It’s a superb quintessential La Jolla view close by. Spread across a large three-paned window, I want to pack it in my suitcase as I prepare myself for a trip filled with art and fun in my native France.

Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

What’s funny is I have not looked at this piece of art for a while because it’s a site-specific installation called 1°2°3°4° and the MCASD is closed for expansion. No access.

It’s no problem though. It’s a view. A quick drive around the building will give me the real deal, the breathtaking vista of the Pacific Ocean framed by palm trees and bathed in ever changing and sparkling SoCal light.

But how many local people actually do it? How many people drive past and turn or pause to take its beauty in? Every single time?

It’s about this view and any other view or object of beauty that surrounds us but has become part of the “furniture”. It’s everything that has become so familiar that we don’t see it anymore.

Fighting “habituation” is really what Robert Irwin’s art is all about. 

He did it with Two Running Violet V Forms on the UCSD Campus where you’ve got to admit fighting “habituation” is simply a must to preserve the young brains that will shape our future.

Robert Irwin, Two Running Violet V Forms, part of the Stuart Collection on UCSD campus

For more, check companion blog post here.

With 1°2°3°4°, it’s about learning to see again or “re-see what is familiar” (Alain de Botton). Never taking what your eyes can see for granted.

Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (with dark filter)

The genius of Robert Irwin was to hear and listen to what people visiting MCASD would say when they found themselves “stuck” in this particular room overlooking the ocean – a room with a great view but with little wall space¹ (a problem in a museum). Whatever was on the wall could easily be dwarfed by the majestic view so all that was left to say was: “This is what I call art”.

In Irwin’s words, this was to become “a great statement and an opportunity” as he chose that room for his project of which he says “one thing I really like about it is how it’s almost effortless²”. And this is so true that museum staff still have to deter people from “touching” the art as their natural instincts is to come closer and look through the “window”.

Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Indeed “effortless” but with a few twists on my prayer beads.

First, the window panes are slightly dark tinted. Then Irwin “cut a square of empty daylight, as it were, into the middle of the window, through the glass³”. And the simplicity of the idea is genius.

Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Irwin has “literally framed everything that is un-framable”. It sets a liminal space, a space in between what I see through the glass and what I see unobstructed.

Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The open windows sharpen what I pay attention to. The colors I see from the inside appear darker as seen through the glass. They are anchoring me in the room.

At the same time, the lighter and recessive colors observed directly through the glass cuts pull me out as my eyes leap to the shimmering ocean and the breeze of the palm trees.

Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

This push/pull effect makes me see more, forcing appreciation, fighting habituation.

This art, like all great art, is a window on the wall that allows me to go to another world. Except here, it makes me realize that world is right there…I just need to step into it.

When Irwin declared he “tried that idea of getting people to make that shift – you know, one dimension, two dimensions, three dimensions, four5”, he basically succeeded.


Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The open squares in the windows let you appreciate all dimensions, including the air temperature, its quality, the way it smells as well as any mist or marine layer the outside world has on offer on a particular day…The effects are endless, never repeated and well worth looking at every time our eyes are open.

I can’t find a better way to conclude than with Robert Irwin summing up his way of looking at the world as a piece of art in his signature plaque in the Getty Gardens he designed:

“Ever present, never twice the same – Ever changing, never less than whole.”

I’d love to hear about the special places where you recharge to fight habituation. The Comment Box is all yours 🙂


© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.




¹ Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Conversations between Robert Irwin and Lawrence Weschler (p.269-271)

² Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Conversations between Robert Irwin and Lawrence Weschler (p.269)

³ Ibid, p.270

4 Ibid, p.271

5 Ibid, p.270

14 thoughts on “No Habituation at 1°2°3°4° by Robert Irwin

  1. Ingenius and amazing…Love the idea we can gaze at something
    forcing appreciation, fighting habituation.
    Love Irwin ‘s 4 dimensions… LIGHT in first.
    “Ever present, never twice the same – Ever changing, never less than whole.”Beautiful sentence.
    Lucky to have a such view on the ocean …always changing! Do the same with my garden!

  2. Fight the habit !! It is so important for us to remain awake and always amazed by life and the world !!
    Have a fresh regard !!
    Irwin mixes art and nature in his work 1 ° 2 ° 3 ° 4 °, what a clever idea the openings in the windows! The same landscape and never the same view !
    Yes it’s genius !! See behind the wall and discover continuity of reality the sky, the clouds, perhaps feel the wind! … I am sure that the visitor becomes aware of his usual environment by visiting such an exhibition and even that he rediscovers his “quotidien”, because the eye escapes through the frames !!

    I think, I remember my trip to Australia !! I saw Ayers Rock, It’s a sacred area for the Aborigines ! I saw the sunset and the sunrise on this immense rock. An amazing view of nature !! We were thousands to admire this nature and you would have heard a fly to fly! At all hours of the day and night, never the same colors, never the same forms with shade and trees. This mountain lives, fragile and immortal ; always there and never the same !!! That is why it is sacred!

    1. Absolutely Marie-Annick! Catching colors repeatedly changing is the best of meditation and appreciation. Ayers Rock, how lucky! It’s on my bucket list!

  3. Salut Maman, Salut Maminou

    J’aime ton post de cette semaine Maman. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  4. Loved the post, Ingrid. It is funny how much Irwin seems close to Buddhist and Taoist sensibility and yet when Weshler suggested this, he dismissed the point completely.

    1. Thank you my dear Lorenza, so glad you liked it! I simply love that piece, that view and pretty much everything Robert Irwin does! I read that too and the more I think of it I think Irwin does not like to be put in a box or categorized. I suspect there is an element of provocation as well, not without reminding me of Duchamp denying being part of Dada 😉. Irwin’s recounting his “collaboration” with Richard Meier on the Getty project is priceless for that. As much as his work utilizes structure like the rebars of the caged trees at Getty or the precisely open cuts in the windows overlooking La Jolla Cove, there is also an immense freedom that links right back to him not wanting to be tied down by a specific label, wouldn’t you think?

  5. Love it!! It is so right, we don’t pay attention anymore to the wonders that surround us… And we don’t even know! Your post just made me realize that. Thank you!! 😘

    1. Thank you dear Patty! Your comment makes me so happy as that’s pretty much sums up what the blog is all about for me too 😘 I will keep trying 😉

  6. I need to come back to see this! In San Diego, Kate session was my spot to think about being aware of wonders around us.
    Mountains have a trick which could be a good idea to work on for an artist: they are different everyday… you can’t prevent yourself from looking at them and notice the changes compared to the day before.

    1. I will take you back to see it when you are back! I agree with you on the meditative quality of mountains. So humbling, ever changing, Nature’s beauty at its best!

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