Last week, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy article by Wil S. Hylton on James Turrell's concurrent exhibitions at LACMA, MFAH, and the Guggenheim. Considering how much I have researched Turrell in the past, there were many passages with new information that were fascinating.
"Not everyone enjoys the Turrell experience. It requires a degree of surrender. There is a certain comfort in knowing what is real and where things are; to have that comfort stripped away can be rapturous, or distressing. It can even be dangerous. During a Turrell show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1980, several visitors to a piece called City of Arhirit became unsteady in the bright blue haze and tried to brace themselves against a wall made of light. Some of them fell down. A few got hurt. One woman, who broke her arm, sued the Whitney and Turrell for more than $10,000, claiming that the show made her 'disoriented and confused' that she 'violently precipitated to the floor.' Another visitor, who sprained her wrist, sued the Whitney for $250,000. The museum’s insurance company then filed a claim against Turrell, and although a member of the Whitney family put a stop to the suit, Turrell still gets sore thinking about it. He spent $30,000 to defend himself, but it’s not the money that bothers him the most. It’s the lingering feeling that the work didn’t . . . work. 'On some level,' he told me, 'you’d have to say I failed.'"
"We were at his townhouse on Gramercy Park in Manhattan. Like Turrell’s other two homes, in northern Arizona and eastern Maryland, it was furnished mostly in the Shaker style."
[I am more astounded at how many houses some famous artists own. Looks like I have more artist stalking research to do especially since James Turrell's compound near Flagstaff was the very first photograph taken that inspired this series.]
"Much of his art is located in the far corners of the earth. There is an 18,000-square-foot museum devoted to Turrell in the mountains of Argentina, a monumental pyramid he constructed in eastern Australia and an even larger one on the Yucatán Peninsula, with chambers that capture natural light."
James Turrell, Roden Crater [image via]
"On a recent drive across the desert to see the crater, he turned to me and said, 'I was absolutely going to get this project done by the year 2000, so I’m a little embarrassed by it. There have been periods of euphoria. There have been times that I’ve been discouraged, and times when I’ve just gone out and enjoyed the place — and realized that maybe this would be it. Maybe it wouldn’t get any further.'"
"In 1966, he was arrested for coaching young men to avoid the Vietnam draft. He spent about a year in jail, and after his release in 1967, moved into a shuttered hotel in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica."
"Over the next five decades, he would become an expert on light-bulb varieties, studying the distinctive character of neon, argon, ultraviolet, fluorescent and LEDs. For his 70th birthday last month, a friend gave him a bulb he’d never used before; Turrell was ecstatic."
"We were pulling around the base of the crater and began to climb the side. Halfway up, we turned into the parking area of a small lodge. The lodge is built mostly from local stone and leftover materials from the crater project. There is a small kitchen, a large common area and four bedrooms tucked into the back. Someday, Turrell hopes to build additional lodges and rent their rooms, so visitors can spend the night at the crater." [someday indeed]
Chuck Close's experience visiting Roden Crater in a wheel chair and the author's description of seeing the crater at dusk are not to be missed. The article ends with this passage: "The crater was perfect, and incomplete, and his time to finish it was winding down. 'You know,' he told me earlier in the truck, 'I’d like to see it myself.' [I have always known that one day I will return and see the interior as the "grand opening" at the base was never quite enough.]
Follow this link to see how the Guggenheim is constructing his piece in the rotunda. The museum guards are going to have their work cut out for them preventing people from photographing it.