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Artistic Inspiration

Inside LACMA's Breathing Light: James Turrell's L.A. Masterpiece

James Turrell, who is considered one of the most important artists of the Southern California Light and Space movement, creates art that is a combination of science, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, archaeology, and spirituality. His work always seems ‘impossible’, creating immersive environments that change the way you understand reality.

‘Breathing Light’, one of the artist’s Ganzfeld pieces, is currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Originally part of the larger ‘James Turrell: A Retrospective’, the installation is designed to entirely eliminate the viewer’s depth perception, and contains light that seems has no source, colors that have that has no fixed shade, and ‘floating shapes’ that stretch into infinite.

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James Turrell. Breathing Light, 2013. LED light into space, Dimensions variable. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation. M.2013.1. Copyright James Turrell. Photo copyright Florian Holzherr.

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James Turrell. Breathing Light, 2013. LED light into space, Dimensions variable. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation. M.2013.1. Copyright James Turrell. Photo copyright Florian Holzherr.

When visiting the exhibit, one must go down the stairs, across the sidewalk path, into another building, wait in line, remove shoes and don white booties, before being allowed to climb stairs, as if into a temple.

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James Turrell. Breathing Light, 2013. LED light into space, Dimensions variable. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation. M.2013.1. Copyright James Turrell. Photo copyright Florian Holzherr.

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James Turrell. Breathing Light, 2013. LED light into space, Dimensions variable. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation. M.2013.1. Copyright James Turrell. Photo copyright Florian Holzherr.

The room is painted entirely white, with all the corners shaped into gentle curves so that depth disappears. The main focal point is a lit pink rectangular orb, with its edges and corners non-existent. The piece’s colors slowly change, making it art to experience over time, and the all encompassing color allows the viewer to feel its physicality. Although Turrell’s pieces are primarily tricks and optical illusions, you have no choice but to appreciate the realistic impact of his creations, our brains struggling to make sense of colors, objects, and edges.

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James Turrell. Breathing Light, 2013. LED light into space, Dimensions variable. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation. M.2013.1. Copyright James Turrell. Photo copyright Florian Holzherr.

“Breathing Light” is now included in the cost of a general admission ticket at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is limited to a few people at a time, so check in with the Ticket Office when you arrive at the museum to reserve your timed entry. For more information, please visit www.lacma.org

All images used with permission