How James Turrell Lit Up the Art World

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Breathing Light, 2013Artwork by James Turrell, photograph © Florian Holzherr

The visionary light artist is being honoured at LACMA’s Art+Film Gala tomorrow, and that's not the only reason he's making headlines...

Who? James Turrell is an American artist whose groundbreaking works exploring space and light in the 1960s earned him a cult following, critical acclaim and the prominence of being one of the most prolific members of the Southern California Light and Space movement. You may recognise his name from the news recently, as Drake’s meme-tastic, viral video for Hotline Bling is said to have been directly inspired by the Californian artist. In a statement to the Art Law Blog Turrell said: “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f*cks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the Hotline Bling video.” Regardless of the similarity in this cross-culture stand-off, Turrell, who is now 72, continues to create his beautiful, trademark spaces filled with soft, coloured lighting to the joy of his ever-growing fanbase.

What? Turrell and his illuminating oeuvre will be honoured at LACMA’s 2015 Art+Film Gala on November 7th, alongside filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. The gala, which is presented by Gucci and co-chaired by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, will welcome Turrell into a fabulous alumni of honourees including David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Stanley Kubrick, Barbara Kruger and Clint Eastwood. The money raised goes straight to LACMA’s initiatives to support the museum’s involvement in the art and film world, and to fund its screenings and educational programming. His ongoing installation, Breathing Light, is currently on show at the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA.

Why? Turrell remains a powerful and enduring force in modern art, with his meditative installations that feed our ever-increasing appetite for authentic, immersive experiences. The fact that his name is currently tied to a string of memes and headlines associated with Drake is not new for the artist, either; remember The Light Show at the Hayward Gallery, and that particular room of different colours that was Instagrammed by thousands of people a day for months? Credit Turrell. He’s been creating experiential, aesthetically challenging work for decades, and it seems it’s nowhere near to becoming dated. Turrell’s acceptance into the LACMA fellowship is a fantastic step for the artist and will hopefully allow him to inspire a whole host of younger artists to follow in his footsteps, creating art that “is a nexus for the worlds of art, science, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, archaeology, and spirituality.”