James Turrell - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Seattle, Henry Art Gallery, James Turrell Works 1967 - 1992, 8 October 1992 - 3 January 1993
    London, Louise Blouin Foundation, JAMES TURRELL A LIFE IN LIGHT, 13 October 2006 - 28 February 2007
    The Siwa Desert House, 2009 - 2012
    Oxfordshire, Albion Barns, James Turrell Five Decades, 16 October 2013 - 20 April 2014

  • Literature

    James Turrell Works 1967 - 1992, exh. cat., Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, 1992, p. 61
    J. Turrell, James Turrell, Valencia: IVAM, 2004, p. 196

  • Catalogue Essay

    Over the past half-century artist James Turrell has crafted his immersive transcendental sculptures from the most intangible of materials: light. His early experiments with light as a medium began in the mid-1960s. The artist’s use of the material has varied in technique and scale, incorporating both natural light and artificial light to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality as well as physically altering the gallery space. Born in Pasadena, California, to a devout family of Quakers, James Turrell’s early life was relatively devoid of technology as well as art: ‘I come from a family that does not believe in art to this day. They think art is vanity’ (Interview with Wil S. Hylton, The New York Times, June 2013). For Turrell, art-making is more than the physical act of creation: it is an intensive, exploratory and spiritual quest into the motivation behind inspiration and influence and the relationship between artist and spectator.

    Trained in perceptual psychology and heavily influenced by philosophy, James Turrell often cites the allegory of Plato’s cave as illustration. The allegory of the cave involves a group of people chained to the wall of a cave for infinity, unable to view anything except the shadows in front of them. Facing the blank wall, the projected images from the fire behind them are the only elements of reality that they can perceive. In this way they come to view the world from its reflection, never seeing objects as they actually are. The philosopher thus can be compared with the figure of a prisoner freed from this cave, now able to perceive true form and understand the infidelity of the previously perceived shadows. In a similar way, the viewers of Turrell’s work are subject to the reality the artist constructs for them. His treatment of the physical space is transformative and challenges conceptions of reality.

    Like the English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner, who notoriously chained himself to the mast of ships during storms to better understand the nature of the sea, James Turrell has logged over 12,000 hours of flight time. An avid pilot, he considers the sky his primary studio space. Over the years, the artist’s exploration of light has varied in technique and scale, incorporating various types of artificial and natural light together for optical effect as well as altering physical space. These experiments have grown progressively more complex over the past fifty years, culminating in Turrell’s ongoing and ambitious Roden Crater project, which creates a literal manifestation of Plato’s cave: ‘I wanted to make spaces that engaged celestial events in light so that the spaces performed a music of spheres in light. The sequence of spaces, leading up to the final large space at the top of the crater, magnifies events. The work I do intensifies the experience of light by isolating it and occluding light from events not looked at.’ (Turrell, Air Mass, The South Bank Centre)

    His vision has changed somewhat over the years, playing with and developing the relationships between space and light. What began as a simple experiment with a projector almost fifty years ago has become a lifelong obsession. Turrell’s light sculptures and installations are elegantly simple in their complexity, integrating spatial alterations with various types and colours of light to achieve hallucinatory effects. The first visual artist to be awarded a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant in 1984, James Turrell has invented an artistic language all of his own. The present lot is a brilliant example of Turrell’s series of space division constructions, in which he disintegrates and reconstructs physical space using light. ‘My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing. I’m also interested in the sense of presence of space; that is space where you feel a presence, almost an entity — that physical feeling and power that space can give.’ (Turrell, Occluded Front, MOCA)

    Fastnet is composed of two rooms separated by a wall with a rectangular opening, creating the illusion of a ‘light painting’ floating in the centre of the room. Walking into the dark ‘sensing space,’ the viewer enters an alternate realm of Turrell’s creation. The space is bathed in the cool blue light that penetrates from the opening of the ‘viewing space.’ On first glance the opening between the two spaces is perceived as a solid blue plane, recalling colour field paintings by artists like Rothko and Yves Klein. A closer examination reveals the seemingly infinite space of the light-filled ‘viewing space.’ Fastnet’s blue light seems to anthropomorphise around us, pulsating within the gallery space. The work’s title, which translates to ‘carnival’ from German, also invokes a dynamic energy, reminding the viewer that they are at once observers and participants in Turrell’s work.

    Fastnet is a pure perceptual play, a masterful light installation that combines the formal qualities of sculpture with science, creating a boundless, mystical experience for the viewer. This striking lot combines personal experience and an ambition to create collective sentiment. Turrell reminisces: ‘Then once, in Ireland I was coming in a boat, in from Fastnet toward Whitehall. It was absolutely still. A silver light came about that bathed everything. This was an experience I had in a conscious, awake state. Most of these experiences that people talk about are generally in altered states that are like a dream, or at least, like a daydream. I would like to have the physicality of my light at least remind you of this other way of seeing. That's as best I can do. It's terrible hubris to say this is a religious art. But it is something that does reminds us of that way we are when we are thinking of things beyond us.’ (Meditating from the floor of the Guggenheim with James Turrell's "Aten Reign”, The Inner Light, 2013)



aperture light installation
dimensions variable
This work is accompanied by a corresponding and complete grey book containing a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist, installation instructions and transfer of ownership documents.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm