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Monumental New Work From James Turrell Unveiled at Phoenix Art Museum
Mohl ip, James Turrell, 2008. Wood, glass volume and computerized neon setting. Museum purchase with funds provided by Contemporary Forum. Photo by Ken Howie.

PHOENIX, AZ.- Phoenix Art Museum announced the acquisition of a monumental new light installation by internationally renowned artist James Turrell – known as the sculptor of light. This compelling new work, Mohl ip, purchased with funds provided by the Museum’s Contemporary Forum, is the largest of the artist’s Tall Glass series, the only neon Tall Glass in the United States and the first to be permanently on view in a public museum.

“This is a major acquisition by a seminal artist working today,” commented James Ballinger, The Sybil Harrington Director, Phoenix Art Museum. “Turrell’s light sculptures, Skyspaces and work at Roden Crater in northern Arizona, have brought him worldwide recognition. Given his importance both on the international art scene and here in Arizona, we are delighted to have this impressive new piece continuously on display in and in our collection.”

Mohl ip consists of a core of neon panels which are individually programmed by the artist to create a subtle shift in color over time, similar to the deliberate but beautiful fashion in which the sky changes from late afternoon to night. Seen through a diffusing panel of glass, the careful construction ensures that the viewer sees only a floating, changing field of light—a subtle revelatory experience of light as tangible entities and physical presence.

Since the 1960s, Turrell’s work has explored the interaction of light and space, drawing on his knowledge of mathematics, perceptual psychology and optics. At an impressive 10 x 20 ft, Mohl ip, a transliteration of the Korean term that alludes to the visual purple or pale blue light seen with the eyes closed in the early stages of meditation, is the hypnotic new centerpiece of the Phoenix Art Museum’s Cummings Great Hall. Turrell described it as “a visual mantra.”

“Mohl ip encapsulates Turrell’s career-long investigation into the manipulating light as an aesthetic and physical material that he began in 1966 with his Mendota Stoppage series and continued with his Ganzefeld pieces and Skyspaces,” commented Sara Cochran, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Phoenix Art Museum.

“This dynamic and exquisite installation also demonstrates the artist’s on-going interest in shaping the viewer’s experience so that they are able to perceive themselves perceiving. It is a powerful and delightful investigation of the very act of seeing that the public will have to experience for themselves to understand it.”

Since 1968 when Turrell received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the artist has been a recipient of 21 awards including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1984), the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government (1991) and the Governor’s Arts Award, Artist of the Year, Arizona (1997). His work has been featured in over 160 solo exhibitions worldwide and can be seen in more than 70 international collections including: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Panza Collection, Varese, Italy; Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

In 1972, Turrell began transforming Roden Crater, a natural cinder volcano situated on the southwestern edge of the Painted Desert in northern Arizona, into a large-scale artwork. Through the medium of light, the piece relates to the surrounding sky, land and culture. It is also a massive naked-eye observatory designed specifically for the viewing of celestial phenomena.

Phoenix Art Museum’s Contemporary Collection is one of the most active and growing areas of the Museum. Displayed in the 30,000 sq. ft. world-class Ellen and Howard Katz Wing for Modern Art created by architects Tod Williams/Billie Tsien and Associates, the collection includes large-scale photography, outdoor sculpture, and art created in a variety of surprising and unexpected materials, plus more "traditional" paintings on canvas. Mohl ip joins several other iconic works in the collection by Cornelia Parker, Yoyoi Kusama, Julian Opie and Josiah McElheny, some of the leading artists of our time.

To celebrate the installation and unveiling of Mohl ip, the Museum will have several other Turrell works on view for a limited time including photographs and plans of Roden Crater, limited edition prints with Segura Publications and the model for a former unrealized project with Phoenix Art Museum.

James Turrell's Tall Glass piece Mohl ip is a Museum purchase with funds provided by the Museum’s support organization Contemporary Forum. Contemporary Forum is dedicated to promoting interest, knowledge and understanding of contemporary art through education programs and acquisition of contemporary art for the Museum's collection. In addition, the Forum sponsors exhibitions of contemporary art and provides contact for its members with artists, galleries, collectors and art educators on a national and international level.

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