Baude on James Turrell

Master of light and color, rod and cone, artist James Turrell may have been blinded a little by his own success. With major retrospectives running simultaneously in New York, LA and Houston, the man famous for turning light into an artistic medium also recently completed a monorail installation at the Shops at Crystals. Building sublime, light-saturated works in public museums and in private spaces is one thing; creating a contemplative installation in a luxury shopping mall at the heart of Las Vegas is another.

The Daniel Libeskind-designed building, with its crystalline angles and soaring volumes, is an unlikely site for Turrell, whose pursuit of simplicity has frequently lumped him with the minimalists. The spikey come-and-get-it glamour of the Crystals mall and the stunning purity of a meditative Turrell installation seem an unlikely combo. The artist is known best for creating chambers that deliver a riveting perceptual experience dependent on optics and technical expertise.

Visible from Crystal’s second floor, the monorail station’s colored lighting glows through a glass wall and balcony, pleasantly blending into the busy interior architecture. On one side of the station is Turrell’s “viewing room” (the balcony walls outlined in white lights), and near the bottom of the escalator hangs a “Wide Glass” work, featuring a pane of etched glass and an LED grid. Passenger benches, balcony and escalator are bathed in jewel-colored lights.

The “Untitled” monorail station contrasts with another recently opened Turrell at Crystals, “Akhob,” located in the elite and rarified realm of the invitation-only fourth floor of the Louis Vuitton store. Both installations provide an immersive light experience, using LED boards and a process of additive color (combining colors to make white) instead of the traditional subtractive color (mixing colors to make black). But the difference between the public and private installations is vivid.

Photo: Corlene Byrd

Turrell’s “Akhob” is a masterful, thrilling work that shears space of form and depth, transforming light into a physical volume. Experiencing the 24-minute morphing color sequence in the “Akhob” “viewing room” is, for many, a marvelous, enchanting vision. Even less sensitive art-goers undergo a playful moment testing the elusive limits of imagination and perception.

At the other end of the mall, the “Untitled” monorail station functions mainly as set and theater. Turrell’s reputation hinges on art that enhances intense introspection, a quality in short supply at Crystals. A shred of mighty Turrell subsists, though—just stand for a prolonged moment in the station’s “viewing room,” lift your eyes from the stores below and gaze up into the sky.

Reprinted from the Las Vegas Weekly

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