James Turrell’s work is as instantly recognizable as it is undefinable, existing somewhere between land art, light art, sculpture, and installation. The artist makes spaces glow, using natural and artificial light in which he immerses the viewer.
Turrell has been exploring the nature of light and space since the 1960s, and has created works worldwide from Yucatan to Japan, and his yet-unfinished opus magnum, the Roden Crater in the Arizona desert. Recently spaces have been opened in the Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and it is worth a James Turrell road trip to discover them.
The Diözesan Museum in Freising near Munich is a good starting point. Turrell named this work A CHAPEL FOR LUKE and his scribe Lucius the Cyrene in allusion to the Freising painting of St. Luke, the most important Byzantine icon in the Diocesan Museum’s collection, which depicts the Virgin Mary and which, according to tradition, was painted by St. Luke himself. Architecturally, the painting of St. Luke and the light installation are on the same visual axis.
The work continues Turrell’s Ganzfeld series, a title that refers to the meteorological effect created by dense fog or snowstorms in which humans cannot perceive the boundaries of space. Turrell’s light installation transforms this effect: upon entering the visitor experiences a complete loss of depth perception – space and time seemingly dissolve, leading to new inner perspectives and meditative situations.
A two-hour drive away to Swarovski World near Innsbruck leads to another Turrell work he created exclusively for Swarovski Crystal Worlds: a „Shallow Space Constructions“ entitled Umbra – an accessible light and color installation in one of the Chambers of Wonder that appeals to all the senses and is deeply moving. IAM brought Swarovski and the light artist together because an essential component of Swarovski crystals is light – the essence of crystal and makes it shine.
From Innsbruck it is not far to Lech where James created a Skyspace facing the Arlberg. He selected the location «Tannegg» in Oberlech at 1780 meters above sea level. A hiking trail leads to the small hill above the mountain station of the Schlosskopfbahn all year. The building located underground is integrated in the landscape. Through a 15-meter tunnel you enter the main room over which the roof opens to view to the sky. The location possesses a fascinating sight axis between the prominent Biberkopf summit and the village Bürstegg and the Omeshorn.
Passing over the border to Switzerland it’s worth a to stop at Zumtobl in Dornbirn, where the light company displays a permanent installation from the Ganzfeld series. Ganzfeld is a psychological term coined in the 1930s by the German psychologist Wolfgang Metzger, who studied the effects of sensory overload. When exposed to an intense torrent of color, the brain starts hallucinating as it struggles to create meaning in an endless color field. The room’s boundaries appear ambiguous – you might even wonder whether your eyes are open or closed.
In Zurich James Turrell has created a Glass Piece for the Children’s Hospital. The new work from the «Curved Glass» type was specially created for the University Children’s Hospital. The brightly colored aperture appears unfathomable between plane, volume and infinite depth. The view loses itself in the barely noticeably changing color moods following a detailed program, similar to complementary contrasts and afterimages that the eye itself generates . As always with Turrell, you are confronted with the act of seeing itself and the phenomenon of light, which suddenly has its own physique.
On September 15th the Gallery Häusler Contemporary opened an exhibition in Zurich showcasing different works series by James Turrell over his long career. The show displays a wide variety of objects from Turrells engagement with the material of light beginning with the subtly shaded Deep Sky Aquatint Series – rare prints from 1985. The Roden Crater Bronzes illustrate individual chambers built by Turrell into the volcano’s interior on a small scale and give a sense of the effect of the spaces in the crater. The centerpiece is the Tall Glass piece controlled by the latest LED technology. The Gallery intends to dedicate its space to his work with permanent installations..