An installation by James Turrell is like a magic trick. He builds structures that seem to contain light the way a cup holds water. His work is sublime, and also difficult to access – often located in remote locales, in private homes, or, most famously, below an extinct volcano in Arizona.
But Turrell's fans are in luck this summer. LACMA in Los Angeles, Houston's Museum of Fine Arts, and the Guggenheim in New York are all showing his work in a nationwide retrospective.
The centerpiece is the installation at the Guggenheim entitled Aten Reign. It's a massive cone of light that descends from the ceiling of the museum's famous central rotunda and washes the space in shifting colors. Turrell programmed it to move through a specific series of colors that blend and manipulate the way the eye moves in space. Visitors lie on the floor and look up to experience it, as though watching clouds. "With some of the lighter colors, you felt like you were going towards the ceiling," said New York teacher Molly Elverson. "There was one point where it felt very claustrophobic because it was the darker gray color and everything was closing in."
Jeri Brogan, a visitor from Ireland, says the piece reminds her of a snail shell, or the Sydney Opera house, "or even the color cards from the paint shop." For Elverson, "it was kind of like inhaling and exhaling colors."
Both the Guggenheim Museum and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts will be showing Turrell's work until late September. The exhibit at LACMA will run through next April.
Slideshow: James Turrell's Aten Reign
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.