James Turrell review

Art, Contemporary art Free
3 out of 5 stars
James Turrell review
Credit line: © James Turrell, courtesy Pace Gallery

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Time has been a bitch to James Turrell. When he started making his legendary light sculptures in the 1960s, the world had seen nothing like it. Now, his influence is so pervasive that you see little hints of him everywhere: music videos, fashion shows, the interiors of fancy cars. The Turrell look – rooms of gentle undulating light – has become such a ‘thing’ that walking into this show feels like entering the lobby of a hotel you can’t afford to stay in. You almost expect someone to go up to one of the works and ask to speak to the manager.

So you have to jump some mental hurdles to get to the nitty-gritty of what makes the American artist so good. The three works here are from his ‘Constellation’ series: two ovals and circle that emit shifting shades of diaphanous light. Each is like the afterglow of some cosmic event, the visual imprint of distant supernovas. They pulse imperceptibly slowly between purple, red, orange, green and blue. It’s like the whole light of the universe captured, somehow, on the walls of the gallery.

But more than anything, these feel like paintings. They’re radioactive Monets, neon Rothkos. But instead of painting light, this is painting with light, so goes the Turrell cliché, and it works. The longer you stare, the more you see waterlilies and shimmering geometric shapes, starry nights and Chelsea Bridge.

They’re absolutely beautiful. They reach out of the walls and embrace you, massaging your eyes and brain.

Do they look like fancy hotel light fittings? Yes. Is it a shame they’re in a sterile Mayfair gallery instead of somewhere that would better suit their celestial intentions? Totally. Is this exactly the same thing he’s been doing for half a century? Definitely. But jump those hurdles and you get to take a cosmic trip with James Turrell, and it’s not one you’re going to want to come back from.


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