The Pros and Con of James Turrell

The Pros and Con of James Turrell

James Turrell


By removing all or most context from his illuminated spaces, Turrell draws attention to light itself. That doesn’t sound very profound, but his work reminds us that light and lighting are integral to the experience of artworks from plays to paintings, and that lighting design is itself an art.

Entering a Turrell piece is probably as close as you’re going to get to being in Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision room.

It’s fun to be bathed in multicolored, slowly shifting light. It’s like a really slow disco.

Trained in the psychology of vision, Turrell demonstrates properties of our visual perception that we’re typically unaware of. Our eyes are fooled—whether by holograms or simply by contrasts of brightness and hue—and we’re aware of them being fooled, yet are still fooled.

Turrell is one of the world’s most acclaimed visual artists, but he’s not above making you a private little James Turrell love shack in your own backyard, if you’re into that (and if you can afford it).

When you support James Turrell, you’re supporting the construction of a massive new work that he’s carving out of an extinct volcano in Arizona. It’s about a third of the way finished, and he’s 70 years old.

Some of Turrell’s 80s pieces look like empty sets for 80s videos. Curators probably sneak back in after those drinky-dancey museum parties and jump around in their tights singing Flock of Seagulls.

Turrell finds the common denominator among spaces of contemplation: a sense of serenity, remove, and altered perspective.


It’s just a hole in the ceiling, man.

Jay Gabler