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James Turrell takes over the management, with the portrayal of his hero

A fascinating new show at the Pace Gallery in Manhattan, “Ad Reinhardt: Color in the Dark,” comes with an unusual perk. It has been “managed by James Turrell”, as the subtitle claims. The prospect of Turrell, an American master of light, hosting an exhibition of paintings by Reinhardt, an American master of darkness, has a special appeal, offering more than two visions for the price of one but also a glimpse into unexpected ways of inspiration. .

On a recent morning, I met Turrell at the gallery with plans to see his Reinhardt show. But first, he led me into a pitch-black room down the street, where he had just finished installing his own piece, “After Effect.” We sat down on a simple wooden bench to watch. What appeared to be a giant screen, framed in cherry red light, rose to the ceiling. You can see through it, to an illuminated green rectangle in the distance. As we talked, green turns to ultramarine or yellow to chartreuse. It looked nothing like a three-dimensional abstract painting, a Reinhardt walking or rather a Rothko inhabiting erotically colored planes.

In reality, of course, there’s nothing there, not even a screen, just LEDs from a group of projectors using the dark. When we discovered the changing effects, Turrell said he had recently undergone cataract surgery. “It gives me color,” he says. “In the general population, women are more sensitive to color than men.”

Now 78, Turrell is a youth presence and discount. He still has his signature long white beard, though it no longer sees him as a Western-style wildling and traitor. He is a grandfather of four, and has said that during the Christmas season, he readily accepts requests to play Santa.

Turrell lives in Flagstaff, Ariz., not far from Roden Crater, an extinct volcano that has haunted him for more than 40 years. Since purchasing the site in 1977, he has built a maze of chambers and tunnels that aestheticize the experience of gazing at the sky. Its completion was delayed so many times that asking Turrell about the opening date made him joke, “I said I was opening the crater piece in 2000, and I’m sticking with it.” .

When the subject turned to Reinhart, Turrell said he never really had the pleasure of meeting him. However, he did hear him lecture. One night – it was February 1962 – Turrell visited the Pasadena Museum, where Reinhardt was giving a presentation titled “The Artist as an Artist”. (Reinhardt’s humor tends to lean towards the edgy and goofy.)

Turrell was then a 19-year-old sophomore at Pomona College, and recalls being emotional when he saw Reinhardt’s work for the first time. A few days after the lecture, at the Virginia Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles, he was treated to a show of Reinhardt’s Black Paintings – difficult, imprecise, monochromatic oil paintings that require viewing close and elongated. If you pass by them quickly, they will be as empty as a wall. But if you let your eyes adjust to their austere palette, subtly distinguished blocks of color emerge from the vast darkness.

“They’re not really black,” Turrell said of the paintings. “They have a brown powdery coating. There are other colors in them. Blues, reds and browns. No green or yellow. I like the type of art you are looking for what lies underneath”.

Reinhardt and Turrell are an admittedly odd couple. They belong to different eras and opposite shores. Reinhardt was born in Buffalo, NY, on Christmas Eve 1913, and died too soon, of a heart attack in his Manhattan studio at the age of 53. Though known as an Abstract Expressionist , but he preferred the style of geometric abstraction to make art. down to the bone. Art history, he claimed, ended with his Black Paintings, which consumed him for more than a decade.

What can he share with Turrell, who was born 30 years later and is technically a sculptor who has learned from the Minimalists of the 60s to concoct objects on the table and embrace the grand scale of architecture. His fame spread more and more overnight in 2013, when he installed “Aten Reign” at the Guggenheim Museum, which fills Frank Lloyd Wright’s pure white spiral with brightly colored concentric rings. Many of us found ourselves lying on our backs on the museum floor, like we were “lying” as we looked up at the splashes of color and pretended the ’60s never ended.

By his own admission, Turrell’s love of light was inseparable from his religious upbringing. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in a well-educated Quaker family. His grandmother, he recalls, wore a flowing skirt and a black cap and would take him Sunday to the local Villa Street Meetinghouse, where they would sit quietly on a bench and try to ” come in to welcome the light”, as he put it. she guides him.

Did his parents encourage him to make art? “No,” he replied. “Art is a complete vanity.”

“We didn’t have a television,” he recalls. “We don’t have a toaster. That’s what I think is unbelievable.”

Instead, his mother prepared toast on top of the stove, in a pyramidal box over a burner. “It’s either warm or burning,” he said. “My mother always baked bread, shaved off the black. I will tell her, I do not want toast. ‘ And she said, ‘It’s not hard bread. It’s really hard do not have bread! ”

Turrell’s installations have been compared to the Quaker meeting house, where Friends gather together in silence, in search of the “inner light”. Turrell’s art, on the other hand, shines on the outside, and he seems all-American to offer such a literal and hedonistic version of transcendence. Viewed against the backdrop of his frugal childhood, his colors are sensual and sumptuous.

“That’s what Kanye is saying,” he said, referring to Kanye West, who shot his IMAX movie “Jesus is King” at Roden Crater. West joked, “Actually, the reason all these hip-hop artists like your work is that you’re an artist of color.”

It’s a reminder that desert occultists can have a large following. Now that Covid seems to be receding, Turrell has been busy flying around to different cities and countries overseeing the completion of the so-called Skyspaces backlog. A cross between an observatory and an amusement dome, his Skyspaces are self-contained compartments designed to frame a boundless blue rectangle and keep it there for you to explore. Since 1976, when The MoMA PS 1 authorized the setting appropriately named “Meeting”, Turrell has completed more than 85 Skyspaces, most recently at Mass MoCA, in North Adams, Mass; in a Quaker meeting house in Chestnut Hill, Penn.; and come this June, to Green Mountain Falls, Colo., nestled into a mountainside.

As we emerged from the enveloping darkness of the Pace building, into an empty front room overlooking the sidewalk in Chelsea, the light seemed harsh and blinding. Turrell commented, “Dreams leave you as soon as you wake up.”

Is it a quote from some symbolic poem? “You can turn it into a quote,” he replied. “We had a hard time holding onto our dreams. We try.”

It’s already afternoon, and I still haven’t seen the Reinhardt show. “One of the first people to provide a seat for his job was Ad Reinhardt,” Turrell said expectantly as we stepped into the elevator. “He has couches at the Virginia Dwan Gallery, and you’ll see couches upstairs!”

Reinhardt last created a stir in New York in 2017, when Zwirner . Gallery gathered his coveted, little-known Blue Paintings, about 28 in all.

In contrast, the new program is surprisingly small. It consisted of only seven pictures – a combination of all red, all blue and all black. Each piece is hung in its own cube-like space, a small chapel furnished with a small bench. I was very dissapointed to see a wedge-shaped bar on the floor in front of each structure that kept you at least five feet away. How can this happen? As any artist can tell you, you cannot accurately see Reinhardt’s near-monochromatic shades without taking the two steps involved in shuffling within inches of the canvas and noting Incremental variations in color, then stand back at an appraisal distance to see the pieces come together.

Turrell replied that it was not his fault. Pace Gallery, which came to him with the idea of ​​​​managing a Reinhardt show, insisted on a fence to prevent viewers from touching the paintings. It is true that the surface of Reinhardt is very fragile. They bruise easily, mainly because he used signature materials that absorb the oil’s pigments to achieve a non-reflective matte surface.

“This way,” Turrell jokes about the barriers, “you don’t touch the picture. You just hit your head on it when you fall.”

Did he design the lighting system and the small chapel?

“Yes,” he replied, “but I don’t book the ride!”

Turrell happens to possess a particular familiarity with art-related accidents. Viewers sometimes mistake his light curtains for actual screens or walls and fall against them; Several lawsuits have resulted.

In the end, the Reinhardt show feels more like a Turrell show. And the couches. It is safe to say that no major artist has incorporated benches into their installations more often or more easily than Turrell. They serve as a rebuke or at least an antidote to the frenetic pace of the current art world, where viewers often race through galleries and art fairs and rarely stop. long enough to get “inside” a painting, as Turrell puts it, as if the act of looking was similar to entering an enchanted space.

Try it once. Sit on a bench and admire Reinhardt’s paintings. From that distance, they may not offer transcendental abilities, but it’s nice to be asked to linger.


Ad Reinhardt: Color Out of Darkness, managed by James Turrell

James Turrell: After Effects

Both arrive March 19 at Pace Gallery, 540 West 25 Street, Manhattan. 212-421-3292; speedgallery.com.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/24/arts/design/roden-crater-pace-turrell-reinhardt-light.html James Turrell takes over the management, with the portrayal of his hero

Fry Electronics Team

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