JAMES TURRELL AT SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM NEW YORK
June 21, 2013 – September 25, 2013
JAMES TURRELL AT SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM – NEW YORK
June 21, 2013 - September 25, 2013
The Guggenheim Museum presents James Turrell, the eminent American artist’s first solo exhibition in a New York museum since 1980. The exhibition features a major new site-specific work, Aten Reign (2013), which represents one of the most dramatic transformations of the museum ever conceived—reimagining the rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building as one of Turrell’s luminous and immersive Skyspaces. Opening on the summer solstice, the installation will fill the museum’s central void with shifting natural and artificial light and intense, modulating color, creating a dynamic perceptual experience that exposes the materiality of light. Including select early works in addition to the monumental new installation, James Turrell considers the dominant themes explored by the artist for nearly fifty years, focusing on his investigations of perception, light, color, and space and the critical role of site-specificity in his practice.
James Turrell is one of three concurrent, independently curated presentations of the artist’s work in summer 2013. Together, the exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art celebrate Turrell's groundbreaking career and form a three-part retrospective across the country.
James Turrell is curated by Carmen Giménez, Stephen and Nan Swid Curator of Twentieth-Century Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Nat Trotman, Associate Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
James Turrell is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The Leadership Committee for James Turrell is gratefully acknowledged for its generous support, including Lisa and Richard Baker, Pace Gallery, Almine Rech Gallery, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, 425 Park Avenue/Simone and David W. Levinson, and those who wish to remain anonymous.
Since the late 1960’s Turrell has conceived a wide-ranging yet unified body of work that explores his specific aesthetic concerns: the use of light as a material that affects the medium of perception; a refined formal language based in geometry; an interest in the optical and emotional effects of color; an interplay between the solid and the ethereal; and an emphasis on quiet, almost reverential atmospheres of introspection and reflection. Building on his early research into sensory deprivation—in particular the Ganzfeld effect, in which viewers experience disorienting, unmodulated fields of color—Turrell pursues a state of reflexive vision that he calls “seeing yourself seeing,” in which one becomes aware of the function of one’s own senses and of the material aspects of light.
"Light is a powerful substance,” Turrell explains. “We have a primal connection to it. But, for something so powerful, situations for its felt presence are fragile. . . . I like to work with it so that you feel it physically, so you feel the presence of light inhabiting a space,” he says. “My desire is to set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience."
One of the largest installations the artist has ever mounted and the result of nearly six years of planning, Aten Reign will materialize the light and the air that fill the expanse of the Guggenheim rotunda. The work proposes an entirely new encounter with the building, as attention is drawn away from the boundaries of the built environment and toward the interior space, creating what Turrell has described as “an architecture of space created with light.” For the first time, the rotunda can be experienced only from below—not as an open void to be looked across, but as a mass of vibrant color that expands and contracts above the heads of visitors.
In Aten Reign, daylight enters from the museum’s oculus, streaming down to light the deepest layer of a massive assembly suspended from the ceiling of the museum. Using a series of interlocking cones lined with LED fixtures, the installation surrounds this core of daylight with five elliptical rings of shifting, colored light that echo the banded pattern of the museum's ramps. As is typical of Turrell’s work, the apparatus that creates the effect is mostly hidden from view, encouraging viewers to interpret what they see by means of their own perception. The work promotes a state of meditative contemplation in a communal viewing space, rekindling the museum’s founding identity as a “temple of spirit,” in the words of Hilla Rebay, the Guggenheim’s first director and a pioneer in the promotion of nonobjective art.
Aten Reign also relates to Turrell’s Roden Crater Project (1979– ), his magnum opus currently under construction in the desert outside Flagstaff, Arizona. When complete, the modified extinct volcano will house nearly two dozen separate installations, many carefully aligned with astronomical phenomena and all incorporating natural luminance. According to Turrell, the project was informed by the design of ancient observatories, which were oriented to celestial events. The Guggenheim itself echoes ancient architecture—Wright imagined it as an inverted ziggurat—and Aten Reign’s elliptical shape bears similarities to certain spaces at Roden Crater and Agua de Luz (an elliptical, stepped pyramid Turrell built in the Yucatan in 2012). Just as the natural world is an inspirational force for Turrell, so it was for Wright, who was fond of the open landscape of the American West, making his second home in Arizona.
Offering a complement and counterpoint to Aten Reign is a selection of Turrell’s early works, some drawn from the museum’s Panza Collection and others on loan. These pieces offer a sample of the artist’s various installation types and link the new project to his work of the 1960s and 1970s. In Afrum I (White) (1967), one of Turrell’s earliest Cross Corner Projections, visitors encounter a glowing cube floating in the corner of a room; what first appears to be a solid object resolves upon closer inspection into simple planes of light. The Single Wall Projection Prado (White) (1967), on the other hand, seems to dematerialize space, dissolving the wall and creating a passage to an unknown space beyond. Alongside these projections, selections from the related etching portfolio First Light (1989–90) explore how the aquatint technique can invoke qualities of radiance. In the Shallow Space Construction Ronin (1968), light emanates from behind a vertical architectural fissure, appearing as a solid plane and dematerializing the darkened wall. Iltar (1976), one of his Space Division Constructions, creates an effect that may be read alternately as a flat panel of color hanging on a wall, a foggy void, or an opening into a separate chamber. These works connect Aten Reign to the artist’s earliest experiments with light and space and offer visitors a variety of perceptual experiences.
SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM – NEW YORK
SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM, NEW YORK
About the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Founded in 1937, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of art, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The Guggenheim network that began in the 1970s when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was joined by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, expanded to include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao which opened in 1997, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, currently in development. Looking to the future, the Guggenheim Foundation continues to forge international collaborations that take contemporary art, architecture, and design beyond the walls of the museum. More information about the foundation can be found at guggenheim.org.
SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM DESIGN BY
ARCHITECT FRANK LLOYD WRITE
SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM – NEW YORK
James Turrell was born in 1943 in Los Angeles. He graduated from Pasadena High School in 1961 and studied experimental psychology at Pomona College in Claremont, California, receiving a BA there in 1965. Having become interested in art, he enrolled in the graduate program at the University of California at Irvine. He created his first light piece, Afrum (Proto), the next year, in which light projected into the corner of a room seemed to form a three-dimensional, illuminated floating cube that resolved itself into flat planes of light only upon close inspection. Leaving school, Turrell took a studio in the former Mendota Hotel in Ocean Park, California, and began to make more projection pieces.
Turrell was given his first solo show at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1967. The following year, he began making constructions in which light shining out from behind one or more sides of a partition wall dissolved edges and changed the viewer’s perception of space in a room. He participated in the Los Angeles County Museum’s Art and Technology Program, investigating perceptual phenomena with the artist Robert Irwin and psychologist Edward Wortz. In 1969, Turrell made sky drawings with Sam Francis, using colored skywriting smoke and cloud-seeding materials. Mendota Stoppages, from this time, involved orchestrated sequences of light projected inside Turrell’s darkened studio; the light, from natural and artificial sources outside, was admitted by opening and closing various apertures the artist had placed in the studio walls.
Turrell received his MA in art from Claremont Graduate School in 1973. The next year, he began work on his first large Skyspace, an aperture cut into the roof of a building that causes the visible plane of the sky to appear flat at the level of the opening. Also in 1974, Turrell located Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in northern Arizona, where he has since worked to refine the site into a monumental observatory for perceiving extraordinary qualities of natural light and celestial events. A solo show of Turrell’s work was held in 1976 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. That same year, Turrell created his first Space Division Construction, in which an opening onto a space filled with ambient light is seen first as a flat surface and then as a window onto a fog-filled room of uncertain dimensions. Since the 1980s, Turrell has created dark pieces in which light is reduced to barely perceptible levels as well as site-specific light installations visible from outside of the multi-story buildings they inhabit. Retrospectives of Turrell’s work were held in at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1980), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1985), Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna (1999), and Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (2004). The artist lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.