New York Times: How James Turrell Knocked the Art World Off Its Feet

It was a beautiful Thursday morning in May, and everything was going wrong. James Turrell had six days to prepare for the biggest museum exhibition of his life — 11 complex installation pieces at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — but he didn’t have a single work finished, and he was missing crucial parts.

He shuffled into the office of Lacma’s director, Michael Govan, and flopped into a chair with a sigh.

“I’m pretty concerned,” Turrell said. “You know, the computer that came back from Russia was completely wiped.”

Govan tapped a foot underneath the table. The computer was essential. Much of Turrell’s work consists of special rooms that are infused with unusual light, and the computer helps run the show. It had been in Russia for another exhibition, but something went awry in transit.

“There’s nothing in it,” Turrell said. “Nothing’s in it at all! Nothing.”

Govan shook his head calmly. “That happens in Moscow,” he said.

Turrell shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I guess,” he said. “I don’t have a piece that’s finished yet. You know, it’s getting late on everything.”

“Has the lens left Frankfurt?” Govan asked. This was another essential part.

“No, it hasn’t left Frankfurt,” Turrell said.

“I thought it did,” Govan said.

“No, no,” Turrell said. “It has not left Frankfurt. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Now it was Govan’s turn to sigh. “You should have been a painter,” he said. “Five years of planning, three months of construction, and there’s not one work of art.”

The plan had been simple on paper: Turrell would open three major shows inside a month. As soon as he finished the Lacma pieces, he would race to Texas for another huge installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and then to Manhattan, where he is opening a show at the Guggenheim next week. Taken together, the three-museum retrospective is the biggest event in the art world this summer. As the curator of the Houston exhibition, Alison de Lima Greene, put it, “This is the first time that three museums have mounted exhibitions of this magnitude in conjunction, all devoted to a single artist.” In total, the retrospective takes up 92,000 square feet.

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Written by: Wil S. Hylton

Source: The New York Times