“We’re going inside to greet the light.”
–James Turrell’s grandmother
This week, as summer turns to autumn and sunlight grows sparse, the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan will close its blockbuster show, “James Turrell.” Turrell’s work, as you’ll read in the many reviews of the exhibition, presents its viewers with light in myriad dazzling forms. His colorful artworks challenge our perceptions, our sense of space, and our place within that strangely lit environment. Things are not what they appear. As we get our bearings, God comes into focus.
The oval void at the heart of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim has been used in many creative ways over the years, though arguably never to so spectacular effect as in Turrell’s massive, site-specific work, Aten Reign. The space unfolds in a continual state of flux as hues delicately drift, colors tumble after each other, flooding the stark white walls of the rotunda with violet, aqua blue, orange, grey, neon pink, lemon yellow. Viewers enter at the bottom, find places of rest along reclined seats and platforms, and quietly gaze up at the constantly shifting light show above. The space can evoke a sense of calm and contemplation, though for some that’s not quite enough: One woman sat down near me, stared up for no more than 15 seconds, and said, “Is anything supposed to happen?” Well, yes and no.