FIRST LOOK: JAMES TURRELL AT LACMA BENDS OUR BRAINS

I first discovered James Turrell when I was 16 and happened across the PBS art21 series that featured Turrell’s Roden Crater. Why any 16 year old would happen across anything PBS is slightly suspect, but apparently I was a bit more of a nerd than I had wanted to believe. In any case, I was hooked. I mean, like, mind. Blown. (It also doesn’t hurt that Turrell looks a bit like a cowboy-slingin’, mad-genius Santa Clause, which, let’s be honest, is a total win in my book.)

So when I heard Turrell was due for a ginormous retrospective at LACMA, I marked my calendar. For those of you who happened to score a ticket to Sunday’s opening, lucky you.

For those of you who didn’t, lucky you.

While the exhibit spans across two of LACMA’s pavilions, I probably spent most of my time outside of them. The Turrell exhibit is more of a waiting game than anything, us unfortunate fans shunned to wait in some kind of never-ending punishment line. Patience is necessary, and fitting, in an ironic way, as Turrell’s work encourages a greater understanding of one’s self through quiet contemplation, meditation, and, well, patience. Perhaps it was Turrell’s silent joke on all of us all along?

Finally inside, the retrospective truly lives up to its word. Featuring 10 or so light installations, holograms, and an entire section devoted to Turrell’s Roden Crater project, the retrospective on the whole is a carefully calibrated, fully immersive, optical mind-fuck. But in the best way possible. “Breathing Light,” one of the most impressive pieces in his collection, extends across 5,000 square feet of the museum and invites patrons to climb a staircase up to a corner-less room flooded with sequences of colors. Special shoe booties included. And let’s not forgot about the Perceptual Cell (Light Reignfall) which requires a signed medical waiver and an emergency contact (told ya it would blow your mind).

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Overall, I left the exhibit slightly disoriented, but completely fascinated. LACMA and Turrell don’t disappoint and have created a transformative environment with their cleverly simple use of light and space. If your sense of perception isn’t questioned upon leaving, then you must have been closing your eyes.

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“Afrum (White),” 1966

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“Breathing Light,” 2013

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Roden Crater, Arizona

If long lines have deterred you, then be sure to catch more of Turrell’s incredible light installations and skyscapes at Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery, on view now until July 6th, 2013

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*LACMA’s retrospective is complemented by concurrent, independently curated exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH)(June 9—September 22, 2013); and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (June 21—September 25, 2013).

 art21: James Turrell