Wednesday, June 19, 2013


... No, it's the mind.  No, it's the mind's eye.  The James Turrell exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opens all three--eye, mind, mind's eye, and leaves the visitor... well, ecstatic, if ecstasy is understood as ec-stasis, a knocking out of inertia into a dizzying sense of infinite expansion.  For decades now, Turrell has been the acknowledged master of the use of light as a medium to create space, and this long-needed show serves to demonstrate that mastery.

(click on the images to enlarge)

I'd be tempted to call him a magician, if he weren't such a consummate craftsman and technician in the science of light: his effects seem magical, mind-bending, ethereal.  Behind the "seens", they are practical experiments in physics, geometry, and architecture.

The mind, in the small world of busy-ness we have created for it, tends in our daily lives to focus on the small stuff.  Turrell's work transports us out of that world, freeing the mind from its tethers and into a dimension where there is no beginning or end, nor even a middle, but pure spaciousness, where the spirit experiences the sense of being "home free."  (The attempt to put it into words inevitably results in sounding pretty silly!)  The exhibition extends through two of LACMA's pavilions: it's a maze of spaces, some large, some relatively small, into each of which the visitor is invited for a different perceptual experience.  Color entrances, overwhelms, consumes us, seducing the mind into spaces that deny us the usual comforts of definition and shape.  We are not mere spectators, we are participants in the abstract, immeasurable realm of beauty.

I looked around from time to time at the faces of my fellow visitors.  If you try that in any normal museum exhibition space, you'll see a lot of thinking going on.  People are driven by the need to "understand" art works, to put them in a historical context, to parse them for their style and visual content.  In the James Turrell show, those same faces express mainly the ecstasy of the experience they're offered: awe, wonder, fascination, enthrallment, delight.  They are captivated, as was I.  They had no need to know or understand anything beyond the pure experience itself.  And in a world divided, all too often, into the dualities of self and other, fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, it's quite an achievement to reintroduce our skeptical selves to the ultimate one-ness of spiritual experience.  This, I think, is what Turrell does, with the eloquence and seeming ease of the magician--but without the tricks.  What he creates is not more (mere!) illusion, but an alternate reality.

The exhibition includes images of numerous Turrell site-specific installations over the years, each one stunning in its own particular way and its relevance to the site. 

There is also full documentation of his ambitious work at Roden Crater - a site that is not yet open to the public even after decades of planning and construction.  It promises to be a landmark monument in the astrophysical tradition of Stonehenge and other monuments to humanity's efforts to locate our Earth in the context of the universe.

1 comment:

CHI SPHERE said...

I saw open minds and mouths agape eyes swimming in pools of light, struck dumb and silly reactions. The children raised up their arms so as to feel the color in the liquid air and looked down to see if they were flying. One small lad near me said, "If I loose my way I can fly back."

I sure love his work and his world view. America has many historical monuments and Roden Crater should be the first artist managed one.

Well, I guess Jim already has that drawn up and underway.