Hayward Gallery, 8 April – 27 June 1993
Since the late 1960s, the American artist James Turrell has made installations, or ‘perceptual environments’, using natural or artificial light as his raw material. When the Hayward Gallery held a solo exhibition of Turrell’s work in 1993, it was the first time that the artist had been exhibited in a public institution in Britain.
As Turrell himself pointed out, the pairing was an appropriate one, since both his work and O’Keefe’s is informed and influenced by the wide open spaces of the American South West.
For the past 40 years, Turrell has been transforming an extinct volcano situated near the Grand Canyon into a series of ‘skyspaces’ and ‘light observatories’. In the exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, the Roden Crater was represented by photographs and a scale model.
One of the three light installations in James Turrell’s solo exhibition was situated on the outdoor sculpture court. Air Mass (1993) is one of the artist’s ‘Skyspaces’, installations that offer heightened visions of the sky, extend and enhance perception, and act as sites of contemplation and revelation.
Of Air Mass, Turrell has said that ‘it is a work which takes the space of the sky and brings that space down to the opening of the space you’re in ... so the sky stops being up there – you feel it’s right beside you.’
Richard Dorment wrote about his experience of Air Mass for the Daily Telegraph. After a desultory start, Dorment found the work enthralling. Watching the patch of sky turn from light to dark, he writes: ‘By some magician’s trick, the now bright lights around us create the illusion that the isolated patch of sky is solid, as though it were a thing, an object one could touch. One could imagine coming here at midnight to make a mad grab at the stars.’