So I know everyone and their brother has been raving about the James Turrell retrospective, an exhibition that debuted at LACMA earlier this summer and is now at the Guggenheim, where it is currently on view until the end of September. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on a private tour of the exhibition last week, and I can attest honestly that it lived up to all the hype.
The retrospective marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York since 1980. This is not to say Turrell stopped creating new work over the past 33 years, he has simply been devoting all of his time to working on Roden Crater, a 5,400-foot-high extinct volcano near the Grand Canyon that he has been transforming into a visionary work of land art. The massive sculpture in works is inspired by the pyramids, Machu Picchu, and other ancient sites that toy with signature Turrell themes such as time and space.
So it’s no wonder that The New York Times and Time Magazine articles I cited above delve into how Turrell “knocked the art world off its feet” and “conquered the heavens.” His work is literally impossible to explain; instead, it is meant to be experienced and interpreted via visual interaction with his installations. Our tour guide explained how what one person sees while viewing an installation may be completely different than what someone else does because Turrell’s “materials” are not really “materials” at all in the literal sense of the word, but rather light, color, space, and perception itself. His pieces are almost always site specific.
We started our tour in the rotunda, where we viewed Aten Reign, a major new project that “recasts the Guggenheim rotunda as an enormous volume filled with shifting artificial and natural light.” The complete transformation of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed architecture uses the natural void within the museum to create the most captivating play on light and space with gradating color I could stare at for hours. Though the rotunda is the highlight of the show, additional works from Turrell’s career are on view in the museum’s annexes. If you are in New York prior to September 25th, I cannot encourage you enough to head to the Upper East Side for this incredible show.