Monday, January 16, 2012

James Turrell at the Franklin Park Conservatory

I had often heard that I should see the James Turrell light installation at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio. It was always followed by "It's a bad one though." I wondered what that meant and approached it this weekend with the hope of finding out. Light Raiment II, 2008 can be found in the Palm House at the Conservatory. As soon as night falls, the building is illuminated by bright colors that change gradually over the space of several minutes. For a sequential example of this, see James D. Decamp's photographs of it here.

What makes a James Turrell artwork bad? Some thoughts:

1) After calling the Conservatory and talking to a very nice woman who informed me of the best way to view it during a cold winter night, I learned about the back parking lot - "ideal for watching it from the car." Unfortunately, the only real view was from the "Reserved Parking" space where I illegally parked for 15 minutes. Even though the lot was empty, this activity produced anxiety nonetheless. As seeing two of Turrell's artworks in the past have induced vomiting, adding stress to the "physical discomfort" list surely wasn't promising.

2) There is a security truck that circles all the parking lots every 5-10 minutes. The headlights from this vehicle often obscure the night time viewing experience especially when parked in the wrong spot.

3) First and second impression of the installation itself: Laser show at the planetarium? Where is the Beastie Boys soundtrack?

4) What's this I see once exiting the car and looking up close? Dale Chihuly sculptures tucked in every nook? I couldn't help but associate all my opinions of Chihuly as a sell-out onto those of Turrell the longer I viewed this piece. Proximity was not helping.

My two favorite Turrells are the Skyspace in the Live Oak Friends Meetinghouse and The Light Inside in the tunnel between the two Museum of Fine Arts buildings in Houston, Texas. Both work with the existing architecture to a far better degree as the building doesn't dominate the changing light. His signature use of flat space is also missing at the Conservatory.
I couldn't help but feel that Turrell was "phoning it in" with this installation.

Here's to another commission that will probably pay for Jimbo the security guard's salary who inhabits the top of the Roden Crater in a Land Rover looking for trespassers. Better yet, how about opening the Crater to the general public a year sooner than the always-delayed-expected-finished date posted on the website?

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