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LACMA mounts an exhibition that may be the best thing hardly anyone sees

Nearly all of my contributions to LA Observed tend to be about sports. But, I do sometimes care about matters other than Don Mattingly's penchant for bunting or other such minutiae. For example, my wife and I are members of LACMA. And on Sunday, we ventured out to see the new James Turrell exhibition, being touted as THE thing to see this summer.

Turrell is a light and space artist, which is not an easy medium to display. For starters, a museum needs to set up some fairly sophisticated lighting equipment. And there needs to be space because the light and the space work together.

But, from our first experience with the exhibition, albeit on its second day of display, the space part may require visitors to LACMA to arrive with a great deal of patience to take all of the exhibit in. LACMA is recommending 90 minutes, but it may take even longer judging from our experience on Sunday night.

We attended a members-only reception on Sunday night and the museum was closed to the rest of the public. The attendance was limited and by my estimate there were about 150-200 people at the museum.

The exhibition stretches over two buildings. It starts on the second floor of the BCAM (Broad Contemporary Art Museum) building and then concludes in the Resnick Pavilion. I would review it more but: 1) I am utterly unqualified to do and 2) I could barely see any of it because of the waits to get in to see any of the major parts.

There is a bottleneck that starts fairly early on when trying to get into two rooms that have very limited space for people to take in. For people to get the full effect, you can't cram everyone into a room. However, this led to waits of what we were told would be 20 minutes for each room. (The LACMA staffer told us, "Most people who have been through it said it was pretty much worth the wait.") With time limited, some other patrons in line told us to go over to the Resnick Pavilion for the really good stuff. So, we skipped past those lines and tried our luck in the next building. (Since we skipped past them, I can't tell you what we missed since I didn't see the descriptions. Which are hard to read anyway since you walk around in subdued light most of the time.)

The Resnick hosts a big installation called Ganzfeld. Patrons have to put on protective booties over their shoes and climb stairs to enter a room that is supposed to be fantastic. Or so I've been told. Because that room had a one hour long wait, meaning that we probably would not have gone in before the reception closed.

LACMA is recommending that people take their time in each exhibit. However, that is probably going to lead to some very long waits. Most rooms only allow eight people in at a time. And there is no time limit for how long you can stay. It's almost like driving along the 405 with drivers stopping in the middle at spots and being told to just wait there as long as they feel. If it's a busy day, that's a recipe for disaster.

Perhaps LACMA will figure out a way to make the wait times more manageable as the exhibit goes on (they have until next April to do so). But, if the exhibit becomes more popular, it may become a victim of its own success. It could become like the purported Yogi Berra saying, "No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

My plan to see the rest of the exhibition is to just plan to see one installation per day. Or hope that the art museum equivalent of Disneyland FastPasses are invented. Or perhaps come on a day when I have six hours to kill.

But if I want a long frustrating night of seeing nothing much happening, I'll stick to going to Dodger games like this one. No transformative light and space art experience, but I did get a Hello Kitty fleece blanket. Yes, I guess I am a Philistine. But art critics who get private tours will likely find the exhibition quite engaging.

Note: One part of the exhibition requires advance reservations. Way in advance, as in it's booked through July. It's called Perpetual Cell.


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