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August 21 2014

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Light Bright: James Turrell Opens at the Guggenheim

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James Turrell's Aten ReignFor the past fifty-some years, James Turrell has been manipulating light to dramatic—and quite often hallucinatory—effect. His magnum opus, for instance, the thirty-five-years-in-the-making (and counting) Roden Crater , turns Flagstaff’s volcanic crater into a celestial observatory. A recent work in Las Vegas gives CityCenter’s Louis Vuitton boutique a neon-lit makeover, and his latest effort, dubbed Aten Reign, converts Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Guggenheim Museum into a mesmerizing neon-lit vortex.

“The show has been in development for about six years, and it was a very complicated construction and design process,” explained associate curator Nat Trotman from the base of the Guggenheim’s rotunda, which has been transformed into a spiraling, shimmering kaleidoscope of shifting color-fields. “This building is very idiosyncratic—you can’t just build anything here.”

The installation makes specific use of the Guggenheim’s soaring, elliptical curves and skylight, adding aluminum plates encased with PVC-covered LED lights to Wright’s base to give the space the feel of a giant, tripped-out lamp. Usually covered with art, the walls are stripped bare, and the viewer is left to look up and take in a seductive, hypnotizing loop of vibrant, alternating blues, greens, pinks, purples, and so on. And at the exhibition’s opening last night, guests such as Ralph Lauren, Francesco Clemente, Jenny Holzer, Laurie Simmons, and Agathe Snow wandered the museum’s ramps, sipping champagne while taking in the multicolored glow.

“Light is a powerful substance,” said Turrell. “We have a primal connection to it. I form it as much as the material allows…. My desire is to set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience.”

James Turrell opens today at New York’s Guggenheim Museum and will run through September 25.

Photo: Scott Rudd 

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