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Guggenheim Acknowledges Its Turrell “Skyspace” Isn’t One (plus my video of Turrell explaining how “Aten Reign” was made) CORRECTED


James Turrell, “Aten Reign,” 2013 © James Turrell
Photo by David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Criticized by me on CultureGrrl and on WNYC public radio for over-hyping its rotunda installation as “one of [James] Turrell’s luminous and immersive Skyspaces,” the Guggenheim Museum, I’ve just learned, has posted a video about how “Aten Reign” differs from (and, I believe, falls short of) true Skyspaces. A link to that video was tweeted yesterday by @MOMAPS1, whose Meeting, 1986, is an early, authentic Skyspace.

[CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this post, I called the museum’s clip a “corrective video.” But the Guggenheim has now informed me that it was available on the museum’s app (which I had not seen) when the exhibition opened (June 21). It was not posted on the Guggenheim’s YouTube page, where I viewed it, until July 3.]

Here are excerpts from what the museum’s curators and Turrell himself say about “Aten Reign” on the video clip:

“In a real Skyspace, this [the Guggenheim’s version] would not have glass on top of it, and that would not be possible, of course,” notes curator Carmen Giménez. Curator Nat Trotman adds that “the experience of the visitor on the rotunda floor will resemble very much [or, to my mind, not so much] one of Turrell’s Skyspace works, where people gather around the perimeter in the room looking up at a hole to the ceiling that opens into to the sky. What the Skyspace pieces do is bring the sky down into the intimate space of the viewer [emphasis added].”

Turrell then sheds light on the special magic of his Skyspaces, which I had powerfully experienced on the grounds of Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AR:

People always think the sky is blue and that we just received this blue. The fact is, it’s possible in some of the Skyspace pieces to make the sky any color you like….We’re part of creating the reality in which we live.

Here, again, is Turrell, in an over-caffeinated CultureGrrl Video taken at the Guggenheim’s press preview (my apologies for its shakiness), telling us about the concepts behind his work: “I’m interested to in some way remind us that we do have this other seeing—the seeing with the eyes closed.”

Late this afternoon, after this post appeared, Betsy Ennis, the Guggenheim’s director of media and public relations, took exception to my implication that the museum’s press release had been misleading. She commented that “neither the exhibition’s curators nor the PR team have referred to “Aten Reign” as a Skyspace.  Rather, we stated: ‘The exhibition features a major new site-specific work, “Aten Reign” (2013), which represents one of the most dramatic transformations of the museum ever conceived—reimagining [her emphasis] the rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building as one of Turrell’s luminous and immersive Skyspaces.'”

This seems to me a distinction without a difference, but reasonable people can disagree (and one has now done so).

And in other Skyspace news: A spokesperson for the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, confirmed to me (as previously reported by Samuel Rowlett on the Hyperallergic blog) that Turrell has offered to redesign the Skyspace that was renounced by the artist and shuttered by the museum because the view of the sky had been irredeemably compromised by a flashy new apartment tower that was erected nearby.

Kristen Gibbins, the Nasher’s associate director of media relations, informed me that “funding [for the new Skyspace] remains outstanding and that there had been “no new developments” in the Nasher’s efforts to pressure the tower’s prime movers “to own up to their responsibility” to address the pernicious effect of the highly reflective tower not just on the Skyspace but on the entire Nasher facility—its heat-fried plantings and its compromised skylit galleries:

Picasso in Plaid: “Nude Man and Woman,” 1971 Photo courtesy of Nasher Sculpture Center

Picasso in Plaid: “Nude Man and Woman,” 1971
Photo courtesy of Nasher Sculpture Center

In a recent opinion piece for the Dallas Morning News, Maxwell Anderson, director of the neighboring Dallas Museum of Art, and Catherine Cuellar, executive director of the Dallas Arts District Foundation, blasted Museum Tower’s officials for “spreading misinformation rather than working earnestly toward solving the problems it has created….This isn’t just the Nasher’s problem — the harsh reflections affect the entire area, as drivers, workers and pedestrians in and around the Arts District can all attest.”

A detailed rejoinder by Mike Snyder, a Museum Tower PR consultant from the Ropewalkers LLC communications firm, is posted as a comment at the end of that piece. [In the previous version of this post, I misidentified him as a different Mike Snyder—a senior technical consultant at Gordon H. Smith Corp. who, according to his LinkedIn profile, worked on Dallas’ Museum Tower. I think the extended heat wave is getting to me!]

Making the best of this mess, the Nasher is currently organizing a city-wide exhibition—Nasher XChange—with 10 public sculpture commissions created in celebration of the beleaguered, resilient museum’s 10th anniversary.

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