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Eric Orr documentary photographs and papers, 1959-2012, undated

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Orr (Eric) documentary photographs and papers

Biographical / Historical

Eric Orr was a key figure in the Light and Space movement in Southern California. Born in 1939 in Covington, Kentucky, Orr graduated from the Kentucky Military Institute in 1958 and spent his early years traveling across the United States and Cuba. He briefly attended the University of Cincinnati in the early 1960s, where he produced his first sculpture, Colt .45, a work later known as Saturday Night Special. The work featured a mounted pistol facing a chair; viewers could sit and control the pistol via a foot pedal.

Orr participated in civil rights protests in Mississippi in 1964 before relocating to Los Angeles in 1965, where he began to produce performances, sound art, and perceptual installations, using the elemental qualities of silence, sound, darkness, and light as material. Among these works was Zero Mass (1972-1973), an immersive 38-foot-long installation made of paper, where up to five people could enter a dark oval chamber and, after 10 to 12 minutes, experience altered vision from the lack of spatial perception.

Developing alongside both Southern California conceptual art and the perceptual-based installations commonly associated with Light and Space art, Orr's work spanned a variety of artistic practices that challenged the definition of artmaking while also incorporating a broad range of cultural references, including space icons found in ancient religions and cultures, Egyptian symbolism, and Buddhist spiritualism.

From the 1970s onward, Orr created a diverse body of atmospheric monochrome paintings using airbrushing and oil paint, wall-mounted sculptures, and public artworks which incorporated a variety of elements including fire, water, gold, volcanic ash, meteorite dust, and his own blood.

Orr participated in a number of international exhibitions during his life, including documenta VII (1982), the Sydney Biennale (1986), and the Venice Biennale (1986). His work can be found in many public and private collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Orr died in Venice, California, in 1998.

Sources consulted:

Eric Orr (1939-1998): A Survey of Works. Santa Monica, CA: Robert Berman Gallery, [2007].

Eric Orr: Time's Shadow. New York, NY: Scott Hanson Gallery, 1987.

Eric Orr: A Twenty Year Survey. San Diego, CA: University Art Gallery, San Diego State University, 1984.

Phillips, Glenn. Acquisition Approval Form for "Eric Orr (American, 1939-1998), archive, c. 1959-1998, accession no. 2017.M.13," September 10, 2019.

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