James Turrell @ Pace London

The Royal Academy building is a rabbit warren. On the front ground floor you have cloakroom, members room and, down the back corridor, the attractive cafe and restaurant; on the first floor the main exhibition space with some vast rooms and then, via the modern metal stairs or the shiny glass & steel lift, the second floor, a series of smaller rooms where they recently had the Daumier exhibition and the brilliant Gaudier-Brzeska/Gill exhibition a few years ago There’s always a queue, the shop is always packed.

To visit the Bill Woodrow, I had to go the Back Entrance in Burlington Gardens, round the back of the main building ( a three minute stroll through Burlington Arcade.) The RA have recently named this exhibition space – Burlington Gardens! The entrance gives on to a wide reception hall, part of which has been made into an informal cafe space by simply putting chairs and tables out; then stairs up to the exhibition space consisting of some small rooms, one Big Room, where most of the cutout and breakdown series were, then back to small rooms which wind round the stairwell. At 11am on a Saturday, I found both the shop and the exhibition completely empty. Either Mr Woodrow is not particularly popular or most visitors/tourists don’t know this space exists, or both. Shame.

Coming out of Bill Woodrow I noticed a sloping corridor leading up to a bright reception area and discovered Pace. Pace is a commercial gallery with locations in New York, London and Beijing and they appear to have leased out some of the rooms off to the side of the RA building, on both the ground floor and first floor.  Here they have installed some wonderful light works by American artist James Turrell b.1943. To quote the exhibition handout:

‘For over three decades, Turrell has used light and indeterminate space – not objects, nor images – to extend and enhance perception. Turrell’s inspiration draws from astronomy, physics, architecture and theology.’

There’s an upstairs room with a work in but it was the ground floor installation which I found really captivating, and was quite full of visitors. Imagine three long rooms like shooting galleries which are dark and unlit. You can stroll along the corridor formed by the open ends of each gallery, or walk into the gallery and approach the work. And at the end of each gallery is one work, a big rectangular screen on which is projected coloured light. Think of a Rothko painting made up of concentric squares of colour, with an outer rectangle of red blurring into an inner rectangle of green. That’s the effect.

The one on the left is titled Kermandec, the middle one Sojourn, the right hand one Pelée. Kermandec had, from outside to inside, rectangles of green, red and blue; Sojourn a centre of blue surrounded by soft green; Pelée white, black and red. The two outer ones had rounded corners; the inner one had square corners. I chatted to one of the curators who explained its a triptych, referring back to the medieval and renaissance arrangement of images behind an altar.

Maybe. But maybe it was just an arrangement of works in their own right, needing no justification or comparison. Each image was absorbing and became more absorbing the more you looked. I walked up to one and was surprised to find it wasn’t light projected onto the wall but a cutout. A false wall had been built which had a big rectangle cut out and the light was projected from behind the the false wall by LED lights hidden out of vision, to create the effect. And the false wall itself was curved gently, which added to the relaxing, absorbing atmosphere.

It was wonderful. Go see.

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