James Turrell lights up Houston
Since I really enjoy art using light, of course I went to see the work of James Turrell as part of a unique retrospective that is consecutively taking place in three different locations. The largest installation is at the Guggenheim in New York. I also read an article about the installations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Much closer to home, I went to the part taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). As the press was coming out, I kept reading about the installations at the Guggenheim and LACMA, but nothing about Houston. The star piece of the entire exhibition is the light piece that takes over the main rotunda at the Guggenheim. The images of it look amazing, and I know photos never give light installations justice. Since I couldn’t find much on Houston, I really didn’t know what to expect. I greatly admire and draw inspiration from experiencing contemporary art. The concepts and contemplation that it takes to create some of these pieces amazes me. Contemporary art fascinates me because it challenges preconceived notions in an intellectual way. I enjoy thinking about an art piece and seeing an idea in a new way. Large installations, light pieces, and sculptures are some of my favorite medias to experience. Another light artist I have been following is Dan Flavin. I have seen some of his large installations in Marfa and in Houston.
I have always been amazed at the permanent installation there by Turrell, The Light Inside, 1999, which I briefly wrote about when I was at the MFAH last, in March. This piece takes over a long underground hallway connecting two buildings. The tunnel is composed of a walkway maybe just a foot off the ground. On either side of the walkway is a few feet to the wall, in a light wash of color. However, the way the light is presented makes it seem endless, like an abyss. The more you focus on the environment, the more the illusion takes over. I get a little distorted, it feels like I would fall forever. Art21 did a great interview with Turrell that focuses on The Light Inside in Houston and the Roden Crater in Flagstaff, Arizona. The volcano has been his most ambitious project that he has been working on since the 70’s.
Hands down, my favorite installation here is the Ganzfeld, the only piece in this exhibit that you can actually walk into. No photos, of course. It is meant to simulate a white out, something that occurs during blizzard, where there is no perception of the space. Experiencing this condition for an extended amount of time has been known to cause hallucinations. This was created with curved walls, making the room seem endless. There are people inside to keep you from going over the “edge”. As with the other pieces, the lights are completely hidden, just casting a glow of slowly changing colors. LACMA has a Perceptual Cell that costs an additional $45 entry fee and requires a waiver be signed before entering. That specific piece really may cause hallucinations, being in an isolated cell, just the experience of light.
What is amazing about experiencing work by Turrell is the illusion that is created in the space. He creates an environment, many of his pieces require their own room. Some pieces seemed to occupy both negative and positive space at the same time. This was particularly true of the wall cut outs. The light seemed to be cubes floating in the air, or breaking up the floor. The entire time seeming to fluctuate between a physical object in front of you, and a recessed object within the wall.
Going a few blocks away from the MFAH, we walk onto the Rice University Campus. They have an outdoor permanent installation, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, that sits upon a hill. However, it is actually a man made area, the grass is actually camouflaging the interior seating for the piece. There are two levels to sit on. The bottom space is made of marble seating, with tall slanted backs, on the inside of the cube like installation. The upstairs has the same type of seating but made of concrete, also slanted for you to be at an angle looking upwards. The upstairs chairs are on the outside of the open cube, so both levels can view above. The entire structure is covered by a flat roof, with a cut out facing the sky. This is where the art takes place. Even before the sunset show began, you can begin to see how the piece subtly changes, with the use of both natural and artificial light. I have seen the sunset many times, sometimes able to stop and view this beautiful natural occurrence. But this particular piece utilizes color theory to create or isolate colors. A forty minute light “show” unfolds as the sun sets. The staff requests silence and no photos. As in the main exhibit, outside light will affect the piece. It was a very meditative experience. The sky changed through many different colors – light blue, teal, gray, black, a brilliant colbalt blue. While the light is progressively getting darker, Turrell then uses the artificial lights projecting onto the roof, bringing the colors from light to dark, and back to light again. It was a very interesting experience and experiment. This show also takes place at sunrise. I think I will have to experience that as well, at some point.
A statement was made by the Guggenheim stating the large installation piece in the Rotunda is not a Skyspace, as at Rice. The specific difference is a Skyspace has an opening to the outside, while the Guggenheim’s opening is covered in glass.
Leaving Houston, in the paper was a story about a woman in Florida that realized she had a Turrell in her home and had been using it for storage. Disappointing, the new owner is trying to sell the piece. The bottom of the article has a nice slide show of a few Turrell pieces.
Yes, I am currently dreaming of seeing the Guggenheim exhibit. Unfortunately, there is no way I could make that happen by the closing September 25. It would be amazing if I could make a trip for my birthday on September 23….but that will not happen with my current work schedule and financial situation. However, the show in Los Angeles runs through April 6, 2014. There is a possibility I could make it there before the closing. And save an additional $45 for the Perception Cell. Yes, I would. I already would like to visit this exhibit at the MFAH again before it comes down. I will definitely also be revisiting Twilight Epiphany at Rice, as it is a permanent installation. This exhibit really expanded my mind. The possibilities of what a media like light can create is endless and ever changing. Perceptions of color, space, and what is tangible where all pushed and questioned. I find that exhilarating and the entire reason why I continue to seek new experiences with art. Of course, my pictures do not do this exhibit justice. It is something to experience in person.