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11.12.03

James Turrell

I admire the ideas behind Earth Art (or Land Art or Site Art or whatever you want to call it): Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Joseph Beuys, Walter De Maria (creator of the Lightning Field), Christo and Jean-Claude, Denis Oppenheim, Richard Long. However, I think the most effective of these artists is James Turrell, whose main interest is in the effect of light and space, natural and manmade. When I took my Humanities class of two years ago to the National Gallery, their favorite work in the East building was a temporary installation by Turrell. Many of those students still talk about the experience of seeing that installation: a room dimly lit in blue with a framed void lit in red in the far wall. I have been avidly following Turrell's progress on what will hopefully be his magnum opus, the museum of light he has been creating at Roden Crater in northern Arizona (at the time of this writing, the Web site was closed; here are some other photos of the site).

James Turrell, Light Installation on the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, ParisSo, it was interesting to read an article (James Turrell, une foi en la lumière [James Turrell, faith in light], December 11) by Francis Rambert in Le Figaro about Turrell's latest work being shown in Paris:

His patriarch's beard makes him seem somewhat older. James Turrell, 60 years old, AKA the Pope of Light, is aware of his calling: "In the world we live in, when you see how nations and religions conduct themselves, I feel that it is a privilege to be an artist or a writer." An American artist riding at the head of Land Art and "Light and Space," he has just created an exceptional work on the 140-meter (459-foot) glass façade of the Caisse des Dépôts building in Paris, designed by the architect Christian Hauvette on the banks of the Seine near the Austerlitz train station. This type of work on contemporary architecture is a first in France.
The Mairie (town hall) of the 13th arrondissement of Paris adds the following information on its Web site:
Architect of light, James Turrell has been seeking to capture the ethereal for some 30 years. For the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations building situated on the banks of the Seine, he has created the lighting of the glass façade, which changes in a slow and regular manner in a 20-minute cycle from dusk through the night. This work is part of Turrell's attempts to associate specific works of architecture with a luminous "clothing." This is the first work commissioned from James Turrell in Paris.
The work was first illuminated during the Nuit Blanche festivities, the night of October 4, and can be seen on the building (at 1, quai d'Austerlitz, in the 13th) nightly from 8 pm to 8 am.

There is a picture of the installation here. You can also read Dominique Widemann's interview with James Turrell ("Nous sommes faits pour le crépuscule" [We were made for dusk], October 4) in L'Humanité.

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