People Making Things

James Turrell

10 months ago by

James Turrell

Recently I was in LA and the weather was crap. So crappy that we spent the majority of our visit going to museums, rather than soaking up the non-existent sun outside.

Josh was super jazzed to see that James Turrell’s Breathing Light was open for viewing at LACMA. I had missed Turrell’s exhibition at the Guggenheim so this was my first experience of one of his pieces. After receiving a slip of paper telling us that we might have serious side effects from the piece like vomiting and fainting, we donned our little sock booties and walked into a sloping curved room with a strong light source at one end that continuously changed color. The installation is designed to completely eliminate the viewer’s depth perception—which for most people creates a very zen like experience.

For me, it was the opposite of zen. My hands immediately got clammy and my mouth went dry; my entire body was tingling. That piece of paper—yeah, it was meant for people like me. I’d never had such a visceral reaction to a piece of art (experiential or not), which was definitely profound. So kudos James Turrell for literally making me feel something!


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  • I totally get that. I grew up with James Turrell’s light tunnel at the MFAH in Houston. Even though it’s beautiful, the physical environment created by the light can make you feel disoriented and nauseated. I fell down in the tunnel once! My favorite pieces by him are the skyspaces, which are flatter and in the ceiling. The natural color of the light changes as the sky changes.

  • I love this piece of art ! to me it has the zen effect :)
    But living in NYC you can see the skyspace by Turrel at the PS1 (queens) which is great, beautiful and NON disorienting

  • The Turrell tunnel at MFAH “soothed the savage beast” of my then-teen son. I will never forget how he dropped into stunned silence, all previous grumbling vanished, as we entered that tunnel. I love Turrell for that experience.

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