For something so ephemeral, James Turrell’s Large Hologram is startlingly beautiful. Situated within a large rectangular frame, the subject—a shard of light bathed by a blue color field—is not bound by this contained space, but instead appears to float freely in front of the expected picture plane. The image is created through holography but Turrell defies our expectations of this medium through his profound understanding of the effects of light and space. Large Hologram does not merely create the illusion of an object through light, but transforms light itself into a sculptural presence.
As a seminal figure in California’s Light and Space Movement of the 1960s, Turrell has spent many years exploring the possibilities of how an individual perceives visual sensation. He studied perceptual psychology at college, and his experience as a pilot has impacted his awareness of the ever-changing atmospheric effects of the sky. The artist’s upbringing as a Quaker has also influenced his singular aesthetic. Turrell frequently cites his grandmother’s explanation of what happens in a Quaker meeting—that “you go inside to greet the light”—as a formative force, and the Quakers’ focus on light and on silent, communal worship informs many of Turrell’s installations. This is most literally evident in Meeting, one of his earliest Skyspaces, located in New York’s MoMA PS1. Yet both Meeting and Large Hologram are not confined by any religious strictures; whether gazing at the sky or at an ethereal light shard enveloped in blue, Turrell’s magical manipulations reveal the experiential possibilities of the quiet contemplation of light.
Turrell is regarded as one of the most important, innovative practitioners of contemporary art.
His installations are often large, complex, and site-specific, some are located in far-flung places in the world, culminating in his magnum opus, Roden Crater. In 1977 Turrell began transforming this extinct volcano in Arizona into a monumental study of light and space, a monumental undertaking which is still under construction. More recently, however, the artist has become more widely known through prominent museum collaborations. In 2013, he was the subject of a concurrent three-venue exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and at LACMA; and as part of MASS MoCA’s considerable expansion earlier this year, a major, multi-decade, retrospective of Turrell’s career was installed for long-term view. The present work allows a more private communion with the artist’s revolutionary studies of light. In contemplating the radiant shard at its center, Large Hologram provides a rare, thought-provoking instance of experiencing light become being.