Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery’s exhibition of new and historic work by James Turrell will be the pioneering artist’s seventh with the gallery over the last fifteen years. The exhibition will debut four unique Glass works along with his Autonomous Structures, models and prototypes for architectural spaces made between 1989 and 1991. While Turrell believes human perception to be his true medium – in his words, “My art is about your seeing” – the works in this exhibition also exemplify Turrell’s pioneering use of light over the last fifty years.
In 1966, James Turrell began experimenting with light in his Santa Monica studio in the Mendota Hotel. By covering the windows and only allowing prescribed amounts of light from the street outside to shine through the openings, he created his first light projections. His practice has been shaped by the ongoing manipulation of architecture, framing and altering the way viewers engage with the environment. Since then, Turrell has undoubtedly become one of the most influential artists working today. Throughout his oeuvre, light and space become experiential processes, reflecting the basic conditions of perception.
In the exhibition, four newly created Glass works will be installed each with their own scale, shape and experience of color. This series was developed from his first Glass works begun in 2006, which were significant in their introduction of a deliberately temporal element. Each Glass is a unique composition, in which hundreds of vivid combinations of colors seep into and against each other as they slowly shift over time. This wall-cavity filled with color advances the lineage of abstract art, particularly calling to mind Mark Rothko’s Color Field paintings or Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings, which for Turrell “brought color out of darkness.” In implicating the viewer in the temporal experience of color within the physical and perceptual experience, Turrell turns light into a powerful substance.
The Autonomous Structures evolved from Turrell’s interest in creating unique architectural spaces designed for shaping perception. In his words, these spaces “are just containers for the light; the art is in the experience of the viewer.” This exhibition will present several of the artist’s models for these structures, cast in smooth, undecorated plaster. Stylistically, these works draw on a wealth of exotic and imaginary architecture of the past that Turrell translates into a connective whole. The late 18th century visionary projects of Boullée and Ledoux are evident in the forms of previous works from the series such as Spread and Boule Boola, the latter whose title seems to refer to Boullée as a double pun. There is also a strong affinity to the pioneering cubist architecture of the Californian Irving Gill in the smooth, undecorated white plaster of these maquettes, in particular to Cold Storage whose dome references Islamic architecture that Gill himself occasionally cited. Turrell also pays homage to Pre-Columbian temples in works such as Transformative Space. Even the desert myths of UFO’s come to play in the maquette forms and titles of Abduction and Jump Start.
The Autonomous Structures are directly related to Roden Crater, Turrell’s magnum opus and one of the great American earthworks, located in the Painted Desert northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. Like the naked eye observatories of civilizations past, Roden Crater is built to reveal and enhance celestial phenomena. The completed and planned construction includes a linked complex of interior and exterior spaces that hold the direct and reflected light of the sun, moon, and stars in such a way as to heighten perception and increase attentiveness to the connection between interior and exterior worlds; the individual and the infinite.
James Turrell was born in 1943 in Los Angeles. Since his first solo exhibitions at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1967, the Stedelijk in 1976, and the Whitney Museum in 1980, Turrell has been the subject of over 150 solo exhibitions worldwide. In 2013, a jointly planned trio of large-scale exhibitions of Turrell’s work opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. 2017 marked the opening of an 8-year long exhibition at MASS MOCA featuring major works from each decade of the artist’s career. In addition to permanent installations at institutions such as MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York; De Young Museum, San Francisco, California; National Gallery of Art, Canberra, Australia; Bennesse, Honmura, Naoshima Island, Japan, Turrell’s work can be seen in many international collections. He has received numerous awards in the arts, including The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1984.