This last spring I had the opportunity to visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s a great museum, and I particularly enjoyed their exhibit of Ai Weiwei works. The piece that really caught my attention, however, was an installation by James Turrell. I came around a corner and walked into a dimly-lit room that was empty except for a large, black canvas on the far wall. The light was so low that I had to squint to see the canvas, but as I slowly approached the canvas I realized there was something very unusual about this painting. There seemed to be a vibrating energy about it and a disorienting depth. Finally, a few steps away from the wall, I realized that my perception of the piece had been completely wrong. This wasn’t a canvas at all, but a hole cut into the wall that allowed me to see through to another small space.
The effect Turrell created with the dim lighting and wall colors was breathtaking. Now that I knew what the piece was, I stepped back again, but even knowing, the impression of looking into a canvas returned again. The effect was very similar to the feeling I’ve had staring into a Rothko painting.
This was my first encounter, or at least the first I remember, with Turrell’s work, and it was exciting. Here was something new, Turrell was using light (or lack of light) and space as his medium.
If I am one of Turrell’s newest fans, it turns out I am far from his only follower. 2013 could easily be called the “Year of Turrell” with a major retrospective of his work occurring simultaneously in three major museums, the Guggenheim, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Art Houston.
Google recently organized a broadcast with the currators of these three venerable institutions to talk about the exhibit and Turrell’s life and work. You can (and should) watch the recorded broadcast above or on Google+ by going to https://plus.google.com/events/cvt62u1u0j88sd17kbeq8sud04k.
Special thanks to Barney Davey for pointing me to the broadcast.by