James Turrell: Recent Works at the Pace Gallery
Light has always played a key role in art from the glimmer of Byzantine mosaics, to the dramatic shards of light in the works of Caravaggio and the delicate caress in the paintings of Vermeer; from the fluctuating, illusive light present in the art of the impressionists, to later manifestations where the light source itself is protagonist, such as in Dan Flavin’s Icons. Artist James Turrell eliminates even the source so as to be able to concentrate on the phenomenon of light. In order to do this, Turrell has in the past undertaken gargantuan projects that sought to harness it by way of the creation of architectural settings that draw attention to natural light – usually by way of an oculus or window – and accentuate its altering tones within the man-made space.
The Pace Gallery in London has just opened a new exhibition of the American artist’s Recent Works. Four examples of his Light Projections: formed of rectangular holes in the walls of the dimmed gallery, illuminated by hidden (artificial) light sources and patches of barely perceptible colours – now vivid and tangible, now spectral and indefinite – that marble the surface psychedelically. This almost psychologically determined quality of light and colour brings to mind the optical gimmickry of the kinetic art of the 1960s, but more directly reminds one of the spiritually charged art of Mark Rothko.
The ground floor of the show displays three of these installations, that, although each conceived autonomously, nevertheless complement each other so well as to seem to form a sort of triptych. The paler, shimmering interplay of red, blue and yellow halos appear and disappear in the luminous, the virginal white of the central piece (Sojourn) bringing to mind a representation of the Madonna, and the two flanking pieces counteracting each other like Ying and Yang – the sensual, bright reds of Kermandec on the left acting the opposite of the contemplative cool and melancholy blue tones of Pelée on the right. Sensing Thought (upstairs), similarly to Sojourn, exhibits a succession of moving blobs of colour that disappear and then reappear, like hidden or forgotten moods of the spirit.
The exhibition is disappointingly brief; however, Turrell’s art – according to the creator himself – is designed to be viewed for longer, more immersive periods, which maybe accounts for the small selection. Less hypnotic than Rothko, Turrell’s work is nevertheless intellectually and spiritually challenging, and most illuminating.
James Turrell: Recent Works is at the Pace Gallery from 7th February until 5th April 2014. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.