James Turrell at LACMA

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You've heard of the slow food movement? Well, James Turrell is the art world equivalent, making work that slows viewers to a standstill, practically forcing them to succumb to another way of looking. As he puts it, creating experiences that allow viewers to "see themselves see." And as one is juggling email, phone messages and tweets, this art might seem something of an imposition at first. At LACMA, where his survey is on view for an entire year, through April 6, 2014, there are fully immersive environments where only a few people can enter at any given time. (Advance ticketing is required.) Once inside the Ganzfeld, Breathing Light (2013), commissioned by LACMA, the experience can be rapturous as the light shifts glacially from icy white to searing orange to sky blue. The pulse slows, the mind ceases its chatter, all is momentarily well as one does indeed experience one's own perceptions or, rather, a sense of one's own perceptions happening.


James Turrell, "Breathing Light," 2013
LED light into space
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds
provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, 2013
© James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr


Turrell, 70, was one of the original group of L.A. artists concerned with the effects of light and space in the 1960s and is probably best known for his work on Roden Crater, the northern Arizona volcano that he has transformed as the ultimate melding of his interests in perceptual psychology in an extraordinary physical environment. As LACMA director Michael Govan once told me, he is a famous artist whose work very few people have ever seen. Despite his appearances during PST shows of two years ago, that was largely the case until now. The Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York is having a complementary Turrell show that continues through the summer as is the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Though there are a number of individual Turrell installations in the homes of collectors in Southern California, this show offers the first real opportunity to glean an overview of the artist's work with models, drawings, holograms and a surprisingly varied array of installations. Two involve going into extremely dark, blackened rooms, another involves lying on a platform, wearing headphones, and being slid into a metal sphere to experience an intense bombardment of searing or soft color and brittle or soothing sound. Each Turrell piece involves taking time and surrendering pre-conditioned responses. And each, in its way, offers its own reward. If significant art is meant to alter the way one thinks or sees or feels, this is the very definition. For more information, go to LACMA.org.


James Turrell, "Raemar Pink White," 1969
Shallow space
Colleciton of Art & Research, Las Vegas
© James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

In addition to the museum shows, Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery, which has been representing Turrell, commissioned a sky space for their new location at 1201 South La Brea. The building was designed by architects at Standard with considerable input from Turrell, including a lovely courtyard, special skylights, and a domed meditation room, part of his Perceptual Cell series. The gallery is showing Sooner Than Later, organized by Richard Andrews and includes Turrell's photographs, plans, survey equipment and much else to do with Roden Crater.


Sky Space

During the day, the sky space serves as a conference room but at sunset, a square shape cut in the ceiling turns an unimaginable palette of colors, an effect orchestrated by Turrell with a hidden but precise arrangement of interior lighting. What is in fact infinite space appears a two-dimensional plane. Here again, time slows as perception heightens. The show continues through July 20. For more information, go to KayneGriffinCorcoran.com.

Banner image: (L-R) Michael Govan and James Turrell