Robert Irwin was born in Long Beach, California on September 12, 1928. After serving in the United States Army from 1946 to 1947, Irwin attended Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles until 1950.
Irwin began his career in the late 1950s, painting a series of hand-held objects which he exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Throughout the 1960s, he experimented with material, painting on aluminum and clear acrylic discs. Starting in the 1970s, Irwin began to focus on creating site-specific installations in rooms, gardens, parks, museums, and other various urban locations. Irwin’s exploration of light and space allowed his viewers to experience the work within a manipulated environment rather than the confines of each medium.
Irwin became the first artist to receive the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1984, a five-year fellowship, which lasted until 1989. He has conceived of fifty-five site projects since 1975, ranging from the architectural and grounds design of Dia: Beacon Center for the Arts (completed in 2003) to the Central Gardens for the Getty Center for Los Angeles, California (completed in 2005). His work has been featured in more than sixty solo exhibitions and is held in more than thirty public collections worldwide, including The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Dia Art Foundation, New York; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Robert Irwin currently lives and works in San Diego, California.