At the time, I didn’t think of how strange it was that I was in the Guggenheim, lying in the the middle of an over-sized mat, brushing my hair out of the way as strangers intermittently stepped on it. In a quiet symphony of light, colors blurred in and out above us, changing the color of the room and reflecting off our faces. It was absolutely stunning! I spent about forty-five minutes lying on my back and then decided to experience it from a different angle. “This is once in a lifetime,” a woman whispered next to me. She had been to the museum seven times since the show opened. “I hope not,” I replied – hoping and praying that once in a lifetime wouldn’t pertain to my own.
James Turrell is someone to know – not only because he is one of my favorite contemporary artists, but for the astonishing fact that three major museums (at the same time!) displayed his work in a single-artist retrospective. Yes, that’s right. As if the Guggenheim wasn’t enough to boast about, both LACMA and MFAH have now elevated this artist to a level that most contemporary artists dream of. To top it off, the seventy-year old was in a position to fill over 90,000 square feet of museum space without the curators aware of what he would install. The Guggenheim didn’t even know what the show would look like until two weeks before the opening in NYC. Talk about having faith in what the end product would be!
This should convince you that this artist delivers. He makes it happen. Resembling Walt Whitman (or Santa Claus, you chose), Turrell is known for creating art that is immersive and experiential. Using space and light as his medium, he doesn’t want you to come, take a look, and keep walking so you get a chance to see a Cy Twombly or Mark Rothko. If you are coming, you are coming just for him; he creates this art so viewers can sit with it in an extended meditation – except this isn’t yoga class, you get to keep your eyes open. Experiencing a Turrell work isn’t like walking up to a painting or sculpture, knowing what the subject matter is and studying the various brushstrokes, colors, or craft of sculpting. This art is purely based on perception and in some way, surrendering oneself so that after a certain amount of time, the line that separates the viewer and the art is blurred.
There is much to say about this artist, but I will let the images and his quotes take the stage from here. The photographs are mainly from “Aten Reign”, an installation hanging from the ceiling skylight and filling the empty foyer space. Traditionally, the museum levels swirl upward around the foyer, as Frank Lloyd Wright intended, but for this installation they had to be closed off. I certainly didn’t mind!
After that I included some of his older works that were displayed in the retrospective for viewers to see as well.
“I have an art that has no image. It has no object. And even very little a place of focus, or one place to look. So, without image, without object, without specific focus, what do you have left? Well, a lot of it is this idea of seeing yourself see, understanding how we perceive”
“I’ve always felt that art was more interested in posing the question than it was in getting the answer, but I’ve come to more recently think that art is the answer.”
“Often people say that they want to touch some of the work I do. Well, that feeling is actually coming from the fact that the eyes are touching, the eyes are feeling.”
James Turrell“Remember technology does not make good work. You can still write a poem on a brown paper bag, and haiku is just as profound as the pyramids.”