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Turrell Shines At The Guggenheim, As Expected

The James Turrell exhibition at the Guggenheim museum closed on Sept. 25, and today the museum said it was its highest-attended exhibition of all time. More than 470,000 visitors saw the show.

9097036052_1e138ce9e1_zEven if expected — Turrell undoubtedly has star power these days — it’s important. To get a number like that, the recognition has to go beyond the regular art-going public — to those new audiences museums crave. Of course, it could be that the FOMO syndrome was at work — “fear of missing out.” If so, people went because everyone else was going, not to see the art. But I don’t think so in this case. Based on anecdotal evidence — conversations with people I know who are not tuned in to museums and listening to people talk while I was at the exhibition — I think the buzz was about Turrell’s art. It didn’t hurt that Turrell’s “explorations of perception, light, color and space’ are part spectacle, but so what?

It also helped that Turrell can’t be seen everywhere, that this was his first exhibition in a New York museum since 1980, and that he created a new, site-specific work for the Guggenheim rotunda (Aten Reign). Although, to me, it was not one of his Skyspaces because the rotunda was not open to the sky — and therefore not as good as they are — it was billed that way by the museum. It was, however, “one of the most dramatic transformations of the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda ever conceived,” as the museum also said.

The Turrell exhibition at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has also closed — as of Sept. 22 — and emailed MFAH late this afternoon to see what it had to say. I’ll post its response when it arrives.

UPDATE: MFAH reports that “We had our best summer attendance in more than a decade, with 68,112 visitors to the Turrell exhibition itself.”

The retrospective in Los Angeles, meanwhile, is also doing land-mine business, to borrow that old cliche. At least that’s what I hear.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Guggenheim 




  1. I traveled from Virginia to see this show and it was totally worth it. The videos in the auditorium added additional perspective about the artist, in addition to the significant media coverage. The museum handled the crowds well, and his prints were a delightful surprise!

    I only wish I could have traveled to see the other shows. When with the Rotan Crater be open?

  2. Mark Jacobs says

    I saw the exhibit in NYC. Was great! I loved that so many people were taking pictures despite the guards saying “no pictures”. I live in Dallas. I was able to attend the Houston show twice. The first time was better- people were allowed to stay in the main piece as long as they wanted. It took about 20 minutes, I think, for the color changes to cycle through. Viewings the second time were limited to about 5 minutes in order to get in as many people as possible. The piece only held about 20 people at a time. No pictures and the guards were very strict about it. A friend from Dallas saw the exhibit in LA and loved it.
    What a treat for all!


  1. […] The James Turrell show at The Guggenheim was the highest attended of all time, with 470,000 visitors. [Real Clear Arts] […]

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