Art and economy welcome Turrell show at NGA

DEPUTY Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, has naturally enough been rejoicing in the ACT Government’s role as principal partner in “James Turrell: A Retrospective”, the coming summer-autumn blockbuster at the National Gallery of Australia, the last for retiring director Ron Radford.

After green 1993 Wedgework: fluorescent, LED and fibre-optic lights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

“After green” 1993
Wedgework: fluorescent, LED and fibre-optic lights
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

But while art was somewhat on his mind, it was another of Barr’s portfolios, that of Minister for Economic Development, where the partnership really resonated.

Barr told assembled media at the gallery yesterday that the ACT Government’s Special Event Fund, VisitCanberra, had already seen seven events go ahead in partnership with national institutions, four at the gallery. And the input by the Government had been vindicated with figures suggesting that 80 per cent of attendees had been from interstate.

Within without 2010 Skyspace: lighting installation, concrete and basalt stupa, water, earth, landscaping National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

“Within without” 2010
Skyspace: lighting installation, concrete and basalt stupa, water, earth, landscaping
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Radford, for his part, marvelled at the fact that Turrell, now in the 70s, was still working. He said that the septuagenarian artist himself would be here in Canberra to help install the exhibition. Turrell’s career, he noted, had spanned almost five decades, with 140 solo exhibitions worldwide, and permanent installations in museums and private collections internationally—including one of his most beautiful, “Within without” 2010, the Skyspace at the NGA, without doubt one of the most popular and most visited parts of the Gallery, especially since you could view it outside opening hours.

The exhibition, Radford said, would represent contemporary international art at its finest and would get people asking themselves “what is it that I am actually seeing?” One of the exhibits that particularly interested Radford was a round sculpture where you had to lie down inside the work as if you were undergoing CAT scan – naturally you’ll have to book into that.

Radford, who prides himself on the uniqueness of NGA exhibitions, said that ours would be the only Gallery showing a Turrell exhibition in the southern hemisphere those in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Houston, Texas had been hugely successful, and the Turrell show has been the most attended exhibition ever held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

He praised the ACT Government for its five years support, especially for the marketing of the exhibition to the tune of $500,000 per show with “not a cent of Federal funding.” Radford said this support had allowed the Gallery to inject an estimated $300 million into the local economy and, if the business-minded NGA Council members were right, considerably more.

ActewAGL Chief Executive Officer Michael Costello, representing the principal sponsors of the exhibition, ActewAGL and Actew Water, said that since 2008 they supported traditional exhibitions, like “Degas: Master of French art”, “Ballets Russes: The art of costume” and “Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge,” but that this was “something extremely different and challenging,” he said as he praised Radford for his entrepreneurial skills and his good taste in art, adding, “We like to partner with something of high-quality.”

Afrum (white) 1966  Cross-corner projection: projected light Los Angeles County Museum of Art photograph © Florian Holzherr

“Afrum (white)” 1966
Cross-corner projection: projected light
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
photograph © Florian Holzherr

The exhibition will show several of the artist’s spectacular light works which have made him famous. A classic early projection piece, “Afrum (white)” 1966, makes the viewer perceive a cube of light floating in space. “After green” 1993, part of the “Wedgework series”, plays with perception, persuading us there is a wall where one does not exist. “A Ganzfeld,” specially designed for Canberra, is one of Turrell’s largest series to date. Inside, surrounded by light, with no edge or corners in the space, we are uncertain about the depth and form of the space—a feeling akin to walking on clouds.

“James Turrell: A Retrospective”, at the NGA, December 13-June 8 2015. The exhibition features immersive installations that allow viewing with a limited number of visitors. Timed sessions with small groups will be permitted into the exhibition every fifteen minutes. Tickets go on sale in late October 2014 through Ticketek. Advance bookings are essential.

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