ERIN C. DUNIGAN | DATE 7/1/2013
I will never forget the first time I encountered a piece by the visionary California Light artist, James Turrell. During the summer of 2005, I studied at Sotheby's Institute of Art in London. The month-long intensive program revolved around gallery and museum outings throughout the city and English countryside. On one such outing, we visited a pretty mind-blowing exhibition at Barbican Art Gallery, called Color after Klein. My classmates and I wandered around the group show for a while before I eventually ended up alone, seated in front of a giant wall of gradating color. The subtle shifts in the light spectrum were so painstakingly slow they were almost imperceptible. I sat there mesmerized, staring into the sea of hypnotic hues until the noise of the gallery and other artworks faded away; I dissolved with them. Forty minutes later I re-emerged to find my friends, spine tingling and teetering on the brink of a full-on religious experience.
This was truly a revelation and opened my eyes to both the California Light Movement and Turrell’s astounding body of work. I have since embarked on an unofficial quest to see as many of Turrell's signature Sky Spaces as possible. So far, my short list only includes the sunset-specific installation at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and my all-time favorite piece, located at my local museum, MoMA PS1, in Long Island City, NY. The latter induces what I have explained to my friends as a nearly drug-induced state of complete euphoria. It's my "happy place."
Dividing the Light, 2007, Pomona College, Claremont, California.
Next on my list is the Sky Space at Turrell's alma mater, Pomona College, but since it may be a while until I get myself out to the West Coast, you can imagine my excitement when James Turrell's first New York solo exhibition in over 30 years opened at the Guggenheim Museum this past weekend. I don't know if the museum's curators intentionally timed the opening to correspond with both the Summer Solstice and the Supermoon, but either way it all seems cosmically appropriate for the unveiling of Turrell's latest ocular masterpiece, Aten Reign. In August, ARTBOOK | D.A.P. will release the highly anticipated exhibition catalogue for this show, which is now considered the largest temporary exhibition the artist has ever created. It's important to note that this is but one of three currently on-view exhibitions celebrating the artist's achievements across the country; other museum venues include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Third Breath, 2005.
To whet my appetite until that publication hits the market, I was inspired to take a plunge into the ARTBOOK backlist and dig up some gorgeous Turrell publications that are currently in stock. The first is a 2010 book from Hatje Cantz, Zug Zuoz, a catalogue dedicated to two extremely different site-specific installations in Switzerland. One piece, "Light Transport," is constructed within the local train station of the city of Zug and literally sheds light on the psychological and physical experience of architectural space. The second piece, "Skyspace Piz Uter" in Zuoz is comprised of a simple stone structure with an aperture through which one can peacefully view the night sky. The book uses these pieces as examples of both the complimentary and contrasting aspects of Turrell's greater body of work, including important themes such as artificial versus natural light, urban versus rural settings, and color versus blackness.
Floater 99, 2001.
The second publication is James Turrell: Geometry of Light, published in 2009, also from Hatje Cantz. This book focuses primarily on Turrell's Sky Spaces and documents some of the artist's most spectacular projects from around the world, providing lush full bleed images. Geometry of Light aims to bring the reader as close to being in the warm, light-drenched room as possible. It concludes with an exploration of Turrell's unfinished magnum opus, the Roden Crater, an installation cum sanctuary built within an extinct volcano in the Arizona desert. Also included are academic, philosophical and art historical essays elucidating the artist's theories on the perception of light and space.
Roden Crater, built into an extinct volcano near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Turrell's stated goal is to "capture light as if in a dream." The artist, who studied psychology, aviation and astronomy before coming to prominence in the art world in the 1970s, is the master of creating unique experiential environments. I have often wished my dreams could be as pleasant as a day spent bathed in Turrellian light. And while his publications cannot capture the spine-tingling phenomenological experience of viewing his work in person, they do provide insight into Turrell's illuminating world, where there are but two goals: seeing and being.
Featured images are reproduced from James Turrell: Geometry of Light.
Hbk, 9 x 11.75 in. / 128 pgs / 94 color.