The great rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum in New York has recently been transformed—replaced, really—by a grand new James Turrell installation called Aten Reign. Five elliptical rings of LED color rise up, funnel-like, to the oculus of Frank Lloyd Wright’s structure, concealing his ramps and walls. As Turrell’s lights slowly modulate from blues to lavenders to fuchsias or to neutral grays, our sense of depth alters too: sometimes the rings so flatten space that they read as concentric ellipses on a single plane; at other times, the rotunda seems deep and high, with the rings marking out its recession. As the lights change, it can feel like looking up into the shade of a Chinese lantern as it opens and closes, accordion-style.
“My art deals with light itself. It’s not the bearer of the revelation—it is the revelation,” Turrell has said. And: “I am making spaces that play the music of the spheres in light.” Turrell “transports us to the exterior of our interior … to explore that bottomless well that spans our lowest depths and greatest heights” writes Guggenheim curator Carmen Gimenez.