James Turrell’s ‘A Retrospective Exhibition’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art covers his over 50 year study of the concepts of light and perception. His observation of a beam of light from a slide projector when a student at Pomona College in the 1960’s inspired his investigations. While the theme of ‘light’ has captured artists’ attentions for centuries, Turrell draws upon the sensory experience of light, and uses it as his medium - inviting viewers to contemplate the delicate and illusive nature of light itself, how we comprehend it and how it functions within our perception of space.
Included in this exhibition are projections, sensory environments, works on paper and photographs. The development of Turrell’s work is well documented. Beginning with his Projection Pieces, the 1966 piece “Afrum”, the viewer sees a luminous cube floating on one corner of the room, yet with a shift in position, the viewer’s visual of the cube disappears and the light is flat against the wall. His early light projections were studied during the years of 1966- 1974 when his studio was
located at the Mendota Hotel in Santa Monica. There he sealed off spaces with no external lighting, letting in light little by little to study light, shadow, and movement. He then began to create spaces to hold light, sometimes filling entire rooms with intensely colored light. In his latest indoor works, Turrell incorporates technological advances. Yukaloo (2011) from the Wide Glass series, is made of solid glass panels illuminated by neon and LEDs so they appear as distinct floating fields of light and
his Holograms series, displays multidimensional fragments of light, made from misexposures of holographic film.
Turrell’s exploration of light as perception began in the late 60s’ when he collaborated with fellow artist Robert Irwin and NASA scientist Ed Wortz at the Garrett Corporation. They developed a series of art and science based investigations into the mechanics of perception and sensory deprivation. These led to Turrell’s later work where he created immersive installations and environments that explored the effects of meditative states on perception and the physical aspects of seeing. Another series called Dark Spaces stresses the complete absence of light, leading the viewer through an unlit corridor and into a sealed and darkened room. After being in the space for several minutes the viewer’s eyes adjust, and a faint glow of light appears. Then his Ganzfeld series allows viewers into a completely homogeneous field of immersive light. The viewer loses the sense of what is ‘up’ and what is ‘down’, with no frame of reference to a horizon line.
As part of his practice, Turrell has developed outdoor architectural spaces which are documented in the retrospective but none are included in this exhibition. They are mostly found in museum environments and other locations around the world. I have been fortunate enough to see “Space That Sees”(1992) in the Art Garden at the Jerusalem Art Museum and Three Gems, (2005)at the Sculpture Garden at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. These outdoor spaces evoked for me the sense of a meditative and spiritual experience - as they frame the sky while you sit on the constructed concrete benches in areas of these indoor/outdoor spaces.
The ‘Roden Crater’ is an ongoing project for Turrell which is documented in the exhibition. It is located in an inactive volcano set on the edge of the Painted Desert in northern Arizona. Turrell’s development of this place into a series of chambers, pathways, tunnels and openings to the sky has been going on since the early 1970’s. It is currently closed to the public because it is unfinished but appears to unite the concepts of light and space, in a way that honors the wonder of our universe and our place in it.
There are two additional concurrent exhibitions showing James Turrell's work: The Guggenheim in NY, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
|Raemar Pink White,1969 (top photo)|
Breathing Light, 2013 (bottom photo)
|Afrum(White), 1966(left) Bridget's Bardo, 2009(right)|
Less than 1 minute video of Turrell Installation Projections: