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'James Turrell: Light Spaces' celebrates the artist's return to the Israel Museum
Raemar Pink White, 1969. Shallow Space; light installation, dimensions variable. Collection of Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles. Photo © Florian Holzherr.

JERUSALEM.- For nearly fifty years, James Turrell, one of the giants of contemporary art, has been exploring ways in which light is seen and experienced. Treating light as material in his impressive and magical works, Turrell examines conventions of consciousness and perception. In his spectacular installations, the spiritual and the technological intersect as light is framed, multiplied, altered, and isolated.

James Turrell: Light Spaces, on view through November 2014, presents works which highlight the artist’s pioneering and radical approaches to art, including his use of light as his sole artistic medium to create immersive sensory experiences for visitors.

Light Spaces includes a representative work from each of Turrell’s three major series which he started at his Mendota, California studio in the mid-1960’s and has continued to develop to this day: Shallow Spaces, Wedgeworks, and Space Division Constructions. The exhibition features geometric light projections, installations that explore sensory deprivation and seemingly unmodulated fields of colored light, works on paper, and models and video images of permanent outdoor works.

The spatial installation Raemar Pink (1969), one of Turrell’s Shallow Spaces, is based on the optical manipulation of light in a divided space. The overwhelming, intensely colored light reaches the viewing space through slits on all four sides of the wall, filling the space and taking away any cues of dimensionality. The space is perceived as shallow while at the same time, the central rectangular form is emphasized and appears as a transparent painting made of light. Raemar Pink’s light seems fleeting, but it takes on volume and form.

A dark corridor leads into Key Lime (1994), from the Wedgeworks series. After entering the space, the viewer sees a complex combination of colored light frames, the outline of a three-dimensional form, and a translucent wall. The work’s sharp lines and dense planes challenge the viewer’s perception of depth, color, light, and space. Unlike Turrell’s other light installations, the light in Key Lime does not expand into infinity or immerse the viewer. Instead, its rich composition of variously colored lights and forms makes it a drawing in space. An earlier Wedgework, Mikvah, was conceived by Turrell for his 1982 solo exhibition at the Israel Museum, his second show outside of the United States.

In St. Elmo’s Breath, one of Turrell’s Space Division Constructions, the appearance of fantastic framed color seems unreal as the illusion of a monochromatic image becomes sharper. At the same time, the viewer realizes that in fact there is no two-dimensional image but rather a rectangular aperture in the wall. The room behind the separating wall is filled with light. There is no depth or focus, only seemingly infinite, bluish purple light. It is impossible to adjust one’s sight.

Turrell’s 1982 exhibition in Jerusalem led to the creation, ten years later, of one of the most subliminal works in Museum's contemporary collection. Set in the Billy Rose Art Garden, Space That Sees (1992), is a minimalist work whose principal materials are Jerusalem stone and the Jerusalem sky. Set below ground, like an archeological discovery, and offering an upward view, the work has a highly meditative and spiritual quality.

“The Israel Museum is privileged to close this past year’s cycle of exhibitions celebrating James Turrell’s groundbreaking achievements as an artist of light, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Given the artist’s legacy of connection with Jerusalem, having first exhibited here over thirty years ago and with one of his most monumental permanent outdoor sky pieces commissioned for our campus in 1992, we feel a special bond with his creative focus.” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel’ Museum. “And of course the special character of Jerusalem light only adds to the uniquely celebratory nature of our presentation of Light Spaces here.”

James Turrell: Light Spaces, is drawn from the retrospective exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on view from May 2013, through April, 2014, in honor of the artist’s 70th birthday, which was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and curated by Michael Govan and Christine Y. Kim. Curators in charge at the Israel Museum are Mira Lapidot, Yulla and Jacques Lipchitz Chief Curator of Fine Arts, and Rita Kersting, Landeau Family Curator of Contemporary Art.

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