James Turrell Takes Up Curating, With a Show by His Hero

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The fascinating new show “Ad Reinhardt: The Color of Darkness” at Manhattan’s Pace Gallery comes with unusual perks. As the subtitles declare, it was “curated by James Turrell.” The prospect of Tarrell, the master of light in the United States, presided over a painting show by Reinhardt, the master of darkness in the United States, has a special appeal, not only offering two visions at one price, but also two visions. Get a glimpse of the unlikely ways of inspiration. ..

Last morning I was planning to meet Tarrell at the gallery and watch his Reinhardt show. But first he took me to a pitch-black room at the height of the street, where he had just finished installing his work, After Effects. We sat on a plain wooden bench and watched over. What looked like a huge screen wrapped in red light like a cherry blossom went up to the ceiling. Through it you could see a green rectangle illuminated in the distance. As we talk, the green turned blue, turned into ultramarine, turned yellow and turned into Chartreuse. It didn’t look as good as Rothko, where three-dimensional abstract paintings, walk-in Reinhardt, or sensually colored planes lived.

Of course, in reality, there was nothing there. There wasn’t even a screen. It was just LED lights from a group of projectors full of darkness. When we noticed the changing effects, Tarrell said he had recently undergone cataract surgery. “It gave me color,” he said. “In the general public, women are more sensitive to color than men.”

Currently 78 years old, Tarrell is a gentle and bearish being. He still has his trademark long whitebeard, but it no longer brands him as a Western-style wild man and rebel. He is four grandfathers and said he was ready to accept requests during the Christmas season in the guise of Santa Claus.

Tarrell lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, not far from Roden Crater, an extinct volcano that has captivated him for over 40 years. Since purchasing the site in 1977, he has built a maze of rooms and tunnels to beautify the skywatching experience. Its completion has been postponed many times, so when I ask Turrell about the opening date, I’m prompted to jokingly say, “I told you to open Crater Peace in 2000, so I’m sticking to it.”

When the subject was turned to Reinhardt, Tarrell said he didn’t really have the joy of seeing him. But he listened to his lecture. One night — this was February 1962 — Tarrell visited the Pasadena Museum. There, Reinhardt gave a lecture entitled “Artist as an Artist”. (Reinhardt’s humor tended to be edgy and absurd).

Tarrell was a 19-year-old sophomore at Pomona College at the time, and remembers the shock of seeing Reinhardt’s work for the first time. A few days after the lecture, he praised Reinhardt’s black painting show at the Virginia Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles. As you walk by them quickly, they appear to be empty like walls. But when you align your eyes with their rigorous palette, subtly distinct colored blocks emerge from the voluminous darkness.

“They aren’t really black,” Tarrell said of the painting. “They have brownish casts. They have other colors. Blue, red, brown. There is no green or yellow. I have the art that you are looking for what is underneath. I like it.”

Reinhardt and Tarrell are certainly a strange couple. They belong to the opposite shores of different times. Reinhardt was born on Christmas Eve in 1913 in Buffalo, New York, and died of a heart attack in a Manhattan studio at the age of 53. Known as an abstract expressionist, he preferred a style of geometric abstraction that stripped art. To the bone marrow. He declared that art history ended with his black paintings and ate him for more than a decade.

What can he share with Tarrell, who was born 30 years later, technically a sculptor, and learned to omit tabletop objects from the minimalists of the 1960s and embrace the magnificent scale of architecture? .. His reputation spread overnight in 2013, when he set up the “Atenrain” at the Guggenheim Museum, filling Frank Lloyd Wright’s chaste white spiral with concentric shiny rings. Many of us noticed that we were lying on the floor of the museum and resting, staring upwards at the blurring of colors, pretending to be the end of the 1960s and becoming “lying”.

With his own approval, Tarrell’s love of light is inseparable from his religious development. He grew up in a well-educated Quaker family in Pasadena, California. His maternal grandmother, as I remembered, wore a plain dress and a black hood and took him to the local Villa Street meetinghouse on Sunday, where they sat quietly on the bench and like him. I tried to “go inside and greet the light”. Grandma instructed him.

Did his parents encourage his artistic production? “No,” he replied. “Art was a complete vanity.”

“We didn’t have a TV,” he recalled. “I didn’t have a toaster. I thought it was unbelievable.”

Instead, his mother prepared the toast on the stove with a pyramid-shaped instrument set on a burner. “It was either just warm or burned,” he said. “My mother was always rubbing toast and rubbing black. I would tell her, I please do not I want a hard toast. And she said, “It’s not a hardtack. It’s difficult. Without it Bread! ””

Tarrell’s installation seeks a comparison with the Quaker meetinghouse, where friends gather quietly in search of “inward light.” On the other hand, Tarrell’s art externalizes the light, and he can look completely American by offering such a literal hedonistic transcendental version. In the context of his modest childhood, his colors are rebelliously sensual and gorgeous.

“That was what Kanye was saying,” he said, referring to Kanye West, who set up his IMAX movie “Jesus is the King” at Roden Crater. West joked. “In fact, the reason there are hip-hop artists who like your work is because you’re a color artist.”

It reminded me that desert mystics can have pop fans. Now that Covid seems to be retreating, Turrell is flying to different cities and countries to monitor the completion of the so-called Skyspaces backlog. At the intersection of the observatory and the Pleasure Dome, his skyspace is a free-standing room designed to surround an endless blue rectangle and hold it there for your joy. Since MoMA PS1 commissioned a well-named installation “Meeting” in 1976, Tarrell has completed more than 85 skyspaces at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. At a Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. And he came to Green Mountain Falls, Colorado in June of this year and stayed by the side of the mountain.

As I stepped out into the empty front room overlooking the Chelsea sidewalk and left the enveloping darkness of the Pace installation, the light seemed tight and squinting. “The dream is to leave you the moment you wake up,” Tarrell said.

Was it a quote from symbolist poetry? “You can quote it,” he replied. “We are having a hard time keeping our dreams. We will try.”

It was afternoon, but I hadn’t seen Reinhardt’s show yet. “It was Ad Reinhardt who first offered a seat for his job,” Tarrell said in anticipation when we stepped into the elevator. “He had a bench at the Virginia Dwan Gallery, and you’ll see the bench upstairs!”

Reinhardt made the last turmoil in New York in 2017. At that time, the Zeviner Gallery collected dreamy, lesser-known blue paintings.

In contrast, the new show is surprisingly small. It consists of only 7 paintings — a combination of all red, all blue, and all black paintings. Each piece is adorned in its own Cubby-like space, a mini chapel with a small bench. I was disappointed to find a wedge barrier on the floor in front of each piece that kept at least 5 feet away. How does this happen? As any artist knows, if you don’t do the two steps of shuffling within an inch of the canvas, paying attention to color changes, and going back to the evaluation distance to see the parts, you’ll see Reinhardt’s near black and white correctly. You can not. I will come with you.

Tarrell replied that it wasn’t his fault. The Pace Gallery, who came to him with the idea of ​​curating Reinhardt’s show, insisted on creating a barrier to prevent viewers from touching the painting. It is true that the surface of Reinhardt is fragile.They are easily scratched, mainly because he used unique materials and discharged oil pigments to achieve a non-reflective matte surface.

“Like this,” Tarrell joked about the barrier, “Don’t touch the picture. When you fall, you hit it with your head.”

Did he design the lights and a small chapel?

“Yes,” he replied, “But I didn’t put in the travel space!”

Tarrell happens to have special knowledge of art-related accidents. Viewers occasionally mistaken his veil of light for real screens and walls, leaning against them and falling. Several proceedings have been filed.

After all, Reinhardt’s show looks like a show about Tarrel. And the bench. It is no exaggeration to say that no major artist has incorporated the bench into his installation as often or comfortably as Tarrel. They stand as a rebuke or at least an antidote to the desperate pace of the current art world. There, viewers race galleries and art fairs on a regular basis, and as Tarrel says, they rarely rest for enough time to get inside the painting. The act of seeing is the same as entering a fascinating space.

So give it a try. Sit on the bench and ponder Reinhardt’s paintings. From that distance, they may not offer transcendence, but it’s nice to be asked to stay longer.


Ad Reinhardt: Color Out of Darkness, curated by James Turrell

James Turrell: After Effect

Both were held at Pace Gallery on 540 West 25 Street in Manhattan until March 19th. 212-421-3292; Pace Gallery.com.

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