turrell at the guggenheim

I have a shameful secret that I would like to share with all of you. Even though I am an architect and even though I enjoy modern architecture and modern/contemporary art, it took me two whole years of living in New York to visit the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Why did it take me so long? $18 tickets – and that’s the discounted price! And when you can get into MoMA and the Met for free (with a Columbia student ID), that’s just exorbitant.

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However, the temporary exhibition by James Turrell that’s up in the Guggenheim (June 21, 2013-September 25, 2013) called “Aten Reign,” combined with my impending move from New York to Shanghai, prompted me to suck it up and shell out the dough. Was it cool? Yes. Was it “oh my goodness, drop everything and go” cool? That depends on if you’ve seen a Turrell before. To me, it wasn’t worth 18 bucks. But hey, it’s the Guggenheim and it’s New York, so you have to visit at least once.

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First off, the building. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (aka “the only architect most people have heard of” aka FLW), the architecture is truly impressive. Built in 1959 and located on 5th Avenue at 89th Street, I’ve passed it plenty of times as I walked down 5th … but normally I pass it because I’m heading to or leaving the Met. It’s one of those buildings that always gets a mention in architecture survey classes, and for good reason.

For the Turrell exhibition the building was basically empty with its signature curving walls (where artwork is usually displayed) completely blank, and a netting on the other side so you couldn’t look into the main space as you normally would. There were two unrelated galleries for “Kandinsky in Paris, 1934-1944” (nice) and the Thannhauser Collection (blah), and then the store and cafe area were untouched.

There were a few areas with other Turrell pieces such as “Afrum I (White),” but let’s be honest: No one really came to see that stuff. People didn’t come to stand in a dark room and try to see some optical illusion, or to check out Kandinsky’s work; they only check out that stuff because they spent so much cash on the darn tickets they have to recoup it somehow by ingesting culture. When you visit the Guggenheim you’re supposed to start at the top and circle your way down. But seriously, I wonder how many people just walk into the museum, lie down on the floor in the main space, and never leave. Or just take a nap.

Cool. Do you remember those commercials for those Popsicle Lick-a-Color pops? “The COLORS, Duke! The COLORS!”