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The primary medium of Californian artist James Turrell is light. Probably the best-known artist in his field, Turrell's entire oeuvre since the 1960s has been devoted to exploring the diverse manifestations of this immaterial medium and working towards a new, space-defining form of light art.
In collaboration with the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, the American light artist James Turrell has created his largest-ever walk-in light installation in a museum context: an 11-metre-high, “space within a space” structure that covers a floor area of 700 square metres and reaches up to the glass roof of the museum. Turrell’s Ganzfeld Piece “Bridget’s Bardo” is a hollow construction divided into two parts. The two interconnecting chambers – the Viewing Space and the Sensing Space – are both completely empty and – a new feature of this type of work – flooded with slowly changing coloured light. The Kunstmuseum is showing The Wolfsburg Project along with a number of Turrell’s other works in the most extensive exhibition by the artist in Germany to date.
From 24 October onwards, visitors can enter the piece via a steep ramp that leads down from the upper floor into the Viewing Space; immersing themselves in a “sublime bath of light”, they can experience with all their senses how the architectural elements of the space dissolve in this homogeneous visual field, creating a sense of perceptual disorientation. While the light reveals and refers to nothing beyond itself, surface qualities interact with those of colour and space to create an atmosphere that completely envelops the spectator and stimulates the senses. Viewers become submerged in a mysterious, painterly world of pure light. Turrell describes this as “feeling with your eyes”, an experience he regards as not just aesthetic but also spiritual.
Occupying a central place in the oeuvre of James Turrell, who was born in 1943 in Los Angeles and is one of the leading artists of the present day, is Roden Crater, a 150-metre-high extinct volcano in the Arizona desert. Since 1974 Turrell has been transforming this site into an artistic observatory where various phenomena of celestial light can be studied. The Wolfsburg Project has been developed in relation to this cosmic “light observatory”: Roden Crater with its opening to the sky has been rotated by 90 degrees, as it were, and inverted to create a seemingly endless interior space. For this extensive installation the artist has employed state-of-the-art light technology and is also making full use of the Kunstmuseum’s architectural and technical possibilities, which are unique within the German museum landscape.
James Turrell’s light art represents the climax of a development that extends from abstraction to the self-revelation of light to the conquest of cosmic space. Having studied art, history of art, mathematics and psychology in Los Angeles, Turrell became known as part of the Californian “Light and Space” movement, along with Robert Irwin and Douglas Wheeler. His reductive aesthetic, which works with nothing but pure light, was initially considered to be an extension of large-format Colour Field Painting (Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman) and was viewed in the context of Minimal art and Land art (Dan Flavin, Walter De Maria). Today, however, Turrell – who always worked at a distance from artistic trends and fashions – occupies a unique position owing to his radical approach to the use of light and his elaborate architectural “laboratories”.
In addition to its central piece, the exhibition The Wolfsburg Project traces the development of this outstanding light artist’s oeuvre with a selective presentation of other artworks. Turrell’s first light works, the Projection Pieces – represented here by prints from the series Still Light – form the thematic starting point of the exhibition. The display spans from the beginning of Turrell’s career over a technically advanced spectral Wedgework “Aloka’s Flower”, created especially for Wolfsburg, to the 2007 piece “Spinther” from his most recent body of work, entitled Tall Glass Pieces.
A bilingual catalogue (German/English) has been published to accompany the exhibition. It includes extensive documentation of The Wolfsburg Project along with images of Roden Crater and a literary account by the renowned writer Peter Weber of his personal journey to Arizona.
This exhibition is supported by Volkswagen Financial Services. Innovative lighting solutions developed by Zumtobel enable James Turrell’s artistic visions to become reality.