Is It Any Good?

A new collection showing light projections, holograms, drawings, and sensory deprivation displays.

I’m not required to get every Gallery display I go into right?

I mean, it’s Modern Art. I can only get so much.

To put it simply (and I think I’ve said this before) James Turrell is a crafter of light. That is his dominant medium. He wants you to value–

Well, on second thought, better let him explain:

Funny thing is, that very video is playing in the first part of the exhibition. It would have really helped if they’d put this right up front, especially for the rest of us newbies who had no idea what this guy’s done and what he’s all about.

The LACMA Website puts it this way:

James Turrell: A Retrospective explores nearly fifty years in the career of James Turrell (b. 1943, Los Angeles), a key artist in the Southern California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition includes early geometric light projections, prints and drawings, installations exploring sensory deprivation and seemingly unmodulated fields of colored light, and recent two-dimensional work with holograms.

For me, it helped to see Mr. Turrell as more of an Architect instead of an Artist. (Yes, I know there’s a distinction. Yes, I know he makes it, but it helped me to wrap my head around his work, and appreciate it a bit more).

That being said, this is a bit more of a…well…participatory exhibition than you may be used to. How do I mean that…and what was up with that pause in that last sentence?

Well, the Retrospective is in two parts. The first part is in the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, second floor. It is primarily a collection of his…well, light displays, including a room filled with Holograms. (It’s off to the side, and you can miss it it you’re not careful). There are rooms just filled with light that they want you to just sit, and…well…experience it all. It’s a bit passive, yeah…but no more so than anything else you do in a museum gallery.

The second part of the retrospective is in the Resnick across the way. Here things get a bit more participatory, because…well…waiting in line is involved. The first “room” involves a light bath…for lack of a better word. You get in line (this can be a 15-20 minute proposition) to be allowed into another room, eight at a time. You take off your shoes, put on little surgical booties, so that you can be allowed into the main room, four at a time into the light bath, which is just a funky, futuristic room, sloping downward, where the lights change magically from one intense color to the next…

Okay, not so magically. You can totally see the light source as you walk outta there, but you get the point.

There is another participatory…well…thing in the next room, but once a visit was enough for me. Besides, I wanted to get to the Roden Crater which his natural light observatory in the next room.

Look, it’s s nice exhibit. There are certainly a lot of pretty things to look at, and even at times be amazed at. Part of me thinks he is working on a problem that’s already been solved. (I mean light dynamics? Really? We know how it moves already.) Still, his work has some value, even though…like in the video above…you have to be a private collector to really enjoy it.

The James Turrell Retrospective runs through April 6, 2014.


IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: As I said, this isn’t a typical exhibition, in that there’s a bit of participation on your part that’s involved. Mostly in the form of standing in line for stuff, then…”experiencing”. There are a number of installations that require some kind of immersive experience, going into a room and experiencing the display. There is also a lot of…care to be maintained in how you look at things and from how far, and what directions. Worry not, the LACMA Guards are on hand to guide you through it.

And of course, remember…the exhibition is in two different buildings.


James Turrell: A Retrospective
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90036
(323) 857-6000

Mon-Tue, Thu: 12–8pm
Wed: Closed
Fri: 12–9pm
Sat-Sun: 11am–8pm