LACMA lights up

May 30, 2013 

James Turrell's stunnng "Breathing Light" is part his new LACMA retrospective. Photos by Florian Holzherr

When Denver art dealer Adam Gildar heard about the James Turrell retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he went straight to the museum’s website for advance tickets to the widely anticipated show. Bound for L.A. with some collectors during the July 4 weekend, Gildar was particularly hoping to see “Light Reignfall,” a mind-blowing, one-person-at-a-time Turrell light show in a spherical tank that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Unfortunately for him, so, apparently, is just about everyone else.

The Turrell show—packed since its opening last week, with “Light Reignfall” reservations sold out until late August—is shaping up to be one of this summer’s hottest tickets, and not just at LACMA.

On June 9, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will showcase a cross-section of large and small works from its collection by the pioneering, Los Angeles-born artist. In New York, starting June 21, the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum will be turned into a gigantic Turrell light piece.

Over on La Brea Boulevard, Turrell’s gallery, Kayne Griffin Cocoran, last week opened a new space designed by the artist, with a show tracing the 37-year history of his still-incomplete magnum opus, “Roden Crater.” The new gallery also has a signature Turrell “skyspace,” a part-skylight, part-lightshow creation that has become the new must-have architectural feature for art lovers. More than 80 have been installed worldwide, mostly for private collectors, including at least a half-dozen in homes and galleries in Los Angeles County.

Turrell's "Key Lime" covers a wall in a pitch-black room.

“It is sort of a festival of James Turrell,” says LACMA Director Michael Govan, who co-curated the LACMA show and whose relationship with the white-bearded artist dates back to Govan’s last job at the Dia Art Foundation in New York.

And, Govan adds, the festival will be a long-running one.

Turrell’s medium is light, colored and natural, manipulated in ways that are designed to engulf and disorient the viewer. But because many of his artworks are built so that only a limited number of people can experience them at once, LACMA is expecting crowds to move much more slowly than usual through the exhibition.

“Tickets to that show are like Stones tickets,” an artist’s liaison for a large L.A. gallery confided earlier this week. “Everybody wants in.”

As a result, the museum is selling timed tickets, both to the retrospective and to high-demand pieces such as “Light Reignfall,” and extending the show for almost a year so that anyone who wants to can eventually see it. The exhibit also will stay open until 11 p.m. on Fridays from July 5 to August 30 as part of extended summer hours at LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.

For some, the thrill is in seeing the artist’s work on its home turf. Now 70, Turrell pioneered Southern California’s Light and Space Movement and made his name in L.A.

Others are looking forward to literally immersing themselves in the pieces.

At a press preview this week, a woman—helped by a pair of attendants in white lab coats—emerged from “Light Reignfall” dazed and comparing the experience to the aura from a somehow-painless migraine. Meanwhile, crowds of donors and arts writers stood in line for up to an hour for a chance to take off their shoes and climb a black-carpeted pyramid into “Breathing Light,” a 5,000-square-foot installation that creates the sensation of being suspended in a fog of luminosity.

Still others are curious about “Roden Crater,” the massive installation and “naked-eye observatory” that Turrell has been building for decades in a volcanic crater near Flagstaff, Az.

“There was a time when I was kind of worried about my career, like many mid-career artists, and thinking maybe I was going nowhere,” the artist chuckled at Wednesday’s press conference. “Now if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, you’re probably somewhat near my work.”

Turrell jokingly compared the crater installation to an unfinished doctoral thesis, and kidded that he was raising money for its completion by “selling blue sky and colored air.” More seriously, he said this summer’s exhibition of his work has drawn attention to the multi-million-dollar project. And, he noted, his skyspace commissions not only have helped underwrite his larger work, but also have informed it, capturing light in its infinite variety.

“I remember when we had backyard burning in Pasadena, and tremendous smog here, but it’s a special, soft, beautiful sky we have here now,” he said. “Arizona has a crisp, clear, hard sky. Each of these places is different, city and country, and I like to celebrate all the different kinds of skies.”

Back under the Denver sky, Gildar the art dealer is looking forward to the retrospective, with or without “Light Reignfall.” It is, after all, the largest-ever survey of the artist’s work and the first in nearly 30 years.

And a fan can hope. Shut out at LACMA’s web site, he ran an ad offering $20 over the ticket price on Craigslist to anyone willing to sell their 12 minutes of Turrell immersion. “But it doesn’t look like there’s much of a possibility that that’s going to work out,” he says, “and that’s okay. It’ll be amazing to see any of his work.”

Tickets for the immersive "Light Reignfall" are sold out until August. Seen here in Moscow in 2011.

Posted 5/29/13

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