Don’t Waste Your Time with James Turrell at the Guggenheim
Turrell’s Aten Reign takes center stage this summer at the Guggenheim.
When the highly-anticipated retrospective of Light-and-Space artist James Turrell’s work opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York back in June, reviews from every art news source poured out in an overwhelming deluge. As far as I’m concerned, staring at color-changing light sounds more like something I’d do in my apartment at the end of an, um, eventful Friday night–hardly anything I’d spend $18 on–but I figured I should probably get over there to see what all of the fuss was about. I thought, “Hey, even if I don’t like the Turrell stuff so much, the Guggenheim still has a massive collection of other great stuff, right?” Wrong.
These people get it, but it’s something else entirely to like it.
Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum is iconic not only for its brilliant collection of modern art, but also for its distinctive architecture. It sticks out so invitingly from the flat-faced buildings littering the Museum Mile like you’d imagine a huge, round building would, so it’s impossible not to want to venture inside. Any other time of the year, the walls of the museum’s large interior rotundas are home to pieces by great names like Picasso, Cezanne, and Warhol, but not today. The Turrell retrospective is so big that it has pushed out almost all of the other art, save for a few annex galleries. Nothing saddens me more than blank, white walls, so I’ll let you imagine my face when that’s all I could see.
So, if this is a museum, why are the walls white?
Words like “heroic” and “mesmerizing” were thrown around in those exhibition reviews I mentioned earlier, and I’d like to add “disappointing” and “boring” to the list (especially considering how much cash went into making it happen–it was a lot). It’s not that I don’t get the whole “Light-and-Space” thing, because trust me, I do. I think it’s really cool how conceptual artists like Turrell wanted to explore the interplay of light, form, and, well, space, but that’s all it is to me: a neat concept. In execution, it’s not anything I can appreciate for more than ten minutes–at least not in any right-minded state.
Afrum I is another Turrell piece at the Guggenheim. It’s cool if you’re into staring at glowing cubes.
My trip to the Guggenheim might have been salvaged by getting to see some real great art, and sure, I got to see a few Cezannes, a gallery of Kandinskys, a room with Picassos on display, but that doesn’t make up for the disappointment of not getting to appreciate the museum as its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, had intended.
THIS DOES NOT MAKE IT OKAY, GUGGENHEIM.
After an hour of hope followed by crushing disappointment with James Turrell at the Guggenheim, I turned my back on the museum and ventured a few blocks south to the close-by Whitney Museum of American Art; stay tuned for a glowing review of that institution, to which I suggest you direct your business until Mr. Turrell’s work evacuates the Guggenheim on September 25th–that is, unless you have either a bottle of Prozac or a couple hits of LSD handy.
The people laying on the floor totally get it, man.