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James Turrell

James Turrell (b. 1943, Pasadena, CA) is an American artist known for his installations that explore the perception and materiality of light, color, and space. Turrell has made a career working directly with light. As he put it, “My work has no object, no image and no focus. With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? You are looking at you looking. What is important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought.”

Raised in Pasadena and educated in perceptual psychology at Pomona College, Turrell is considered the leading artist of the Light and Space movement that originated in Southern California in the mid-1960s.

In 1966, following his graduation from college, Turrell moved to a building in Ocean Park, California, formerly called the Mendota Hotel. There, he created a series that explored light’s ability to alter a viewer’s perception of space. He organized this artistic venture into groups based on structure and the ultimate perceptual effect denoted by each work. For example, his well-known 1967 work, Afrum I (White), belongs to his “Cross Corner Projections” category, which consists of glowing cubes that appear to float in the corner of a room. These cubes first appear as solid objects, but as viewers approach, the cubes turn into simple planes of light.

In 1974, Turrell left Ocean Park and moved to Flagstaff, Arizona. In 1979, he began construction on one of his most well-known works, the Roden Crater, which remains in progress to this day. The Roden Crater is an extinct volcano in the desert outside of Flagstaff, which Turrell is in the process of transforming a sprawling naked-eye observatory. While creating light spaces, natural observatories, and installations at the site, he also produced works on paper inspired by space.

In portfolios of etchings, Turrell often explores how light is transmitted through the aquatint technique. This is seen in his work, First Light (1989-90), a portfolio containing five subsets, and each one pictures the repetition of a single geometric light, ranging from parallelograms to columns. His prints and works on paper often reveal his thought-process and the construction behind the three-dimensional installations.

His work has most recently been included in solo and group exhibitions at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA (2021); MASS MoCA, MA (2021); Fundación Jumex, Mexico City, Mexico (2019); Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Württemberg, Germany (2018); Long Museum, Shanghai, China (2017); De Pont Museum, Tilburg, the Netherlands (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, The Rocks, Australia (2015); Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel (2014); National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia (2014); Neuesmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany (2014); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (2013); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY (2013), National Gallery of Art, DC (2013); and Grand Palais, Paris, France, among others. Mary Ryan Gallery held a solo show featuring Turrell’s prints in 2019.

Turrell’s work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Aarhus Museum of Art, DK; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, NY; Centre Pompidou, FR; Chichu Art Museum, JP; Contemporary Art Museum, JP; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, AR; De Pont Stitching Foundation, NL; de Young Museum, CA; Ekeberparken, Oslo, NO; Houghton Hall, UK; Indianapolis Art Museum, IN; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, IL; James Turrell Museum, AR; Kulturforum, SE; Kunsthalle Mannheim, DE; Kunsthalle Museum, DE; MAK, Vienna, AT;  Museum Fur Moderne Kunst, DE; Museum of Contemporary Art, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, TX; Museum San, Oak Valley, SK; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, BE; Nasher Sculpture Center, TX; National Gallery of Art, Canberra, AU; Museum of Modern Art P.S. 1, NY; Phoenix Art Museum, AZ; Skystone Foundation, Flagstaff, AZ; Tate Modern, UK; Temple Hotel, Beijing, CN and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.
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