James Turrell show at LACMA almost didn't make it

Thumbnail image for turrell-skyroom-hz-iris.jpgThis weekend's New York Times Magazine had a long feature on how artist James Turrell has "knocked the art world off its feet," partly by opening three major shows in different cities inside a month. One of those cities is Los Angeles, as we have posted already. What hasn't been covered in LA is just how close the LACMA show came to not being ready on time. From the lead of the NYT piece:

It was a beautiful Thursday morning in May, and everything was going wrong. James Turrell had six days to prepare for the biggest museum exhibition of his life — 11 complex installation pieces at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — but he didn’t have a single work finished, and he was missing crucial parts.

He shuffled into the office of Lacma’s director, Michael Govan, and flopped into a chair with a sigh.

“I’m pretty concerned,” Turrell said. “You know, the computer that came back from Russia was completely wiped.”

Govan tapped a foot underneath the table. The computer was essential. Much of Turrell’s work consists of special rooms that are infused with unusual light, and the computer helps run the show. It had been in Russia for another exhibition, but something went awry in transit.

“There’s nothing in it,” Turrell said. “Nothing’s in it at all! Nothing.”

Govan shook his head calmly. “That happens in Moscow,” he said.

Turrell shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I guess,” he said. “I don’t have a piece that’s finished yet. You know, it’s getting late on everything.”

“Has the lens left Frankfurt?” Govan asked. This was another essential part.

“No, it hasn’t left Frankfurt,” Turrell said.

“I thought it did,” Govan said.

“No, no,” Turrell said. “It has not left Frankfurt. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Now it was Govan’s turn to sigh. “You should have been a painter,” he said. “Five years of planning, three months of construction, and there’s not one work of art.”

Of course it all came together in time. but the story makes fascinating reading.

Our previous posts on Turrell in Los Angeles:

Iris Schneider photographed a weekend gallery opening and was wowed by Turrell's sky room.
Bob Timmermann reports from the first weekend of "James Turrell: A Retrospective" at LACMA.

Photo by Iris Schneider of Turrell's skyspace room at the Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery.


More by Kevin Roderick:
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