Get lost in the light

ART – James Turrell’s “Breathing Light” at LACMA is a wonder.

by Zachary Sierra, Staff Writer

You may not have heard of James Turrell, I hadn’t either, but after experiencing his installation, “Breathing Light,” it is a name you will not soon forget.

According to LACMA materials, the Angeleno Turrell is “considered one of the most important artists of the Southern California Light and Space movement,” in which artists manipulate viewers’ sensory experience of light and color. Currently on display during an extended run, the exhibit is open to the public and included with general admission. Entry is controlled and reservations are required to prevent overcrowding.

When entering the antechamber, visitors are met with a low bench running along the right hand side of the room. There are cubbies in which to stash your shoes, with special foot coverings provided. There is then a brief presentation so common in museums about not being allowed to touch the art and to stay five feet from the back of the display.

All of these words flow in and out of your ears, a drone half heard while immersed in your own thoughts or conversations. Then you are signaled to walk up a pyramid of stairs to what looks like a projection on the wall.

Instead you step into another dimension.

Light ebbs and flows, constantly shifting tone and intensity. A rounded space surrounds you above and below, left and right. Ahead of you however there is only eternity: A tunnel reaching out into color so pure and deep, I nearly stumbled on my feet. Vertigo overtook me and I had the keenest sense of falling into that endless space of color for the briefest moment. Depth cannot be assessed, nor height or breadth. A brilliant void lays in front of you without blemish or pattern. Only pure, infinitely deep spectra reaching forward to pull you in.

And it breathes, vacillating between hues and tones. Darkness surges forward, causing you a moment’s panic, as though the sun itself was dying, before surging back to an almost painful brilliance. The space has a nearly spiritual grace to it, your emotions rising and falling, mercurial as the lights. Some wept quietly, overwhelmed by the purity of the experience. Others simply stared ahead, into the interminable space before them in quiet contemplation, a meditative relaxation filling their features.

You are only given eight minutes in the space, though the full cycle of colors runs over 20 minutes. This means that you have to go multiple times to experience the full range of colors and changes, though in my experience repeated jaunts lack the punch of the initial exposure.

The installation is currently running, though it will be closed through Oct. 30 for repairs and improvements.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036

Free with general admission. Capacity is limited. Maximum occupancy: 8. Check in at a LACMA Ticket Office to reserve same-day access.

Your thoughts?