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James Turrell: “Knowing Light”

Henry Art Gallery
Seattle WA thru Oct 5, 2003

James Turrell - Spread
James Turrell, Spread (2003), installation view
[Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA, thru Oct 5, 2003]
photo Dean Welshman

Light is one of the most fundamental and essential elements in art. As such, James Turrell uses it as the sole subject for large-scale installations, transforming the bottom floor of the Henry Art Gallery. He makes the architectural spaces seem grand as well as intimately scaled by using the interior structure to shape the light.

Experiencing one of Turrell's pieces usually involves a mesmerizing illusion. There is a haunting transition period as the viewer’s eyes become adjusted to the subdued light. This physical transition mirrors the viewer’s perceptive shift.

The impressive work entitled Spread, a 4000-square foot environment, encompasses visitors with coloured light fields that feel infinite. An element of pure, Zen-like respect is introduced when visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering. The overall experience is humbling. Turrell terms these works the Ganzfeld pieces, named for the optical phenomenon where there is nothing for the eye to focus on. In these works, the light is so convincing that the space becomes a glowing abyss, much as if viewers were enclosed within Colour Field paintings.

Turrell bases his pieces on his life-long investigations of light, space, and perception. Carefully engineered, they are complex in both thought and conception. Turrell’s work holds an aesthetic integrity that is equivalent to the light of the full moon. Minimal and unadorned, there is a silent ambient vibration that welcomes quiet contemplation.

James Turrell - Spread
James Turrell, Spread (2003), installation view
[Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA, thru Oct 5, 2003] photo Richard Nicol

On July 11, the Henry Art Gallery is opening another piece by Turrell in its permanent outdoor sculpture collection. Light as Now, Turrell’s third installation of the type he terms “skyspaces”, will be a cylindrically-shaped architectural space that captures luminosity through a dome open to the outside.

© Allyn Cantor

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