James Turrell at the Guggenheim

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I went in with too much expectation. Had read every press review and interview with the artist. Had seen all the photographs. Knew too much about the crater.

The atrium was stunning, the prints beautiful. And still I was left disappointed. With so much hype over James Turrell’s intervention in the Guggenheim’s rotunda and partner exhibitions at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, expectation had been building for months. I imagined being navigated into a room, slowly becoming dizzy and disoriented, and then left to be immersed in a world of brilliant color phenomena. I expected to leave the space with new insight, knowing something about the world I had never seen or recognized or appreciated before.

And really that is absurd. As art writers we have shrouded Turrell’s work in magic, unable to avoid descriptors such as enchanting, mystical and hypnotizing when Turrell’s work is really about subtlety. The principle forms of shadows and line and light are the heart of his process. Simple gradations in gray are the most telling and beautiful, with waves of light providing time and space to reflect.

The show should not have been disappointing. We just set an impossible bar.


The James Turrell exhibition is on view through Sept 25th: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions/on-view/james-turrell

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