From June 7th to October 24th this year, Houghton Hall, Norfolk, will host an ambitious and important exhibition of James Turrell's light pieces, many collected by the Marquess of Cholmondeley, owner of Houghton, who has long been an admirer of his work.
Turrell is widely acknowledged as one of the most important artists working today. From the mid 1960’s onwards his principal concern has been the way we apprehend light and space. His study of mathematics and perceptual psychology, as well as his Quaker upbringing and background as a pilot, inform his practice. His first exhibition in 1967 of ‘projection pieces,’ used high intensity light projectors to give the illusion of a solid geometrical object, often seemingly floating in space. From these investigations of light, Turrell went on to begin his series of ‘Skyspaces’. These are enclosed viewing chambers that affect our perception of the sky.
Since then he has continued to create works using light as his medium. Perhaps his most celebrated works are his ‘Ganzfeld’ chambers, whole spaces immersed in light; as well as his more recent ‘Tall Glass’ series, which resemble windows of slowly changing colour. Meanwhile, Turrell continues work on a monumental project at Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in Arizona. Here he has created a series of viewing chambers, tunnels and apertures to heighten our sense of the heavens and earth in one of the most ambitious artistic endeavours of modern times.
‘Light is a powerful substance. We have a primal connection to it.’
An exhibition devoted to James Turrell’s work has been a long-held ambition of Lord Cholmondeley’s. He first discovered Turrell’s work twenty years ago, and in 2000 invited him to Houghton to install a ‘Skyspace’ amongst the trees on the west side of the house. Soon afterwards, a rusty water tank was removed from an 18th century folly in the park to make way for his atmospheric interior space, ‘St Elmo’s Breath’.
The show is centred around works from the Houghton collection, which also includes projections, a ‘Tall Glass’, holograms and prints. The exhibition is complemented by further loans to help cover the broad spectrum of Turrell’s work; and a unique, site specific installation has been created especially for Houghton – ‘The Illumination’- lighting the whole west façade of the house to be viewed from dusk (please see below).
LightScape follows three highly acclaimed exhibitions in 2013/14 at the Guggenheim, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The National Museum of Australia, Canberra has also hosted a major retrospective of his work which closes as the Houghton one opens.
‘I am confident that our exhibition - the first of this scale in the UK for many years - will become one of the sensations of the arts calendar in 2015’
The entire west façade of Houghton will be lit in a slowly evolving light show specifically created by Turrell. This 45 minute spectacle will begin at dusk and can only be seen on Friday and Saturday evenings. Visitors will be able to take advantage of the later closing times for the Hall, grounds and gardens. The restaurant will be open for dinner bookings and a pop-up café on the west front will provide drinks and snacks for those wanting to relax whilst watching the show unfold.