It is impossible to overestimate the importance of James Turrell in the contemporary-art world. In the 1960s, the American artist took colour and light – two of the most simple yet sensorial aspects of existence – and completely reimagined what art could be. Now Pace Gallery is hosting its second London solo show with the iconic artist from February 11 to March 27, which promises to be a major event.
For Turrell, our experience of light is not something abstract. “Generally, we use light to illuminate other things. My interest, of course, is in the ‘thingness’ of light: its physicality and presence – the felt presence of light in the space that we enter consciously by looking into it,” he once noted. The gallery will showcase four new works from his Constellation series. These sculptural objects are wall-based shapes of curved glass that are animated by shifting computer-programmed LED lights. The looping, shifting gradient of colour can have spiritual or psychedelic effects on a viewer. The shapes of these glowing artworks range from diamonds to rectangles, and continue the artist’s fascination with physics and architecture. Turrell’s work does not fit into any box. In fact, he made his own idea of what art could be. As he once said, “This is not minimalism and it is not conceptual work; it’s perceptual work.”
This has been a good year for Turrell, who is 76 years old. In January, Kanye West announced a donation of $10m to help complete the artist’s masterpiece inside a crater in Flagstaff, Arizona – a project the artist has been working on since 1979. He has also just opened a highly anticipated survey show at the Fundación Jumex in Mexico City, which runs until March and is sure to be the big draw for those heading to the city for the February art fairs. Fashion houses are also becoming big fans, with both The Row and new Louis Vuitton stores featuring pieces by Turrell.
The artist has been awarded numerous doctorates and is in every big collection in the world, from LACMA to the Pompidou. None of this matters, however, when you stand in front of one of his simple yet complex objects, pull away from your phone and experience light, time and space in a totally different way.