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James Turrell Revisits “Second Meeting”

James Turrell, “Second Meeting” interior, 1989. Production stills from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Marc Levy.

“We don’t normally look at light; we’re generally looking at something light reveals.”

Filmed in early 2013, this new Exclusive shows artist James Turrell revisiting one of his first skyspaces, Second Meeting (1989), at the home of private collectors in Los Angeles, California. Second Meeting was originally installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1986. In the film, Turrell explains what initially led him to work with light, and how his skyspaces encourage examination of our own visual perceptions.

When the Art21 team goes out to film, we aim to convey the in person experience of an object or installation. Every work poses unique challenges. Rackstraw Downes’s elongated paintings can appear bowed through wide-angle lenses. Without the right microphones, important sounds in Ann Hamilton’s multisensory installation the event of a thread would go unnoticed. Subtle variations in Robert Ryman’s delicately painted white-on-white canvases can be especially difficult to capture and without them we lose the essence of his work. In my opinion, James Turrell’s installations are the most difficult to convey in documentary film.

Artist James Turrell seated inside “Second Meeting” (1989). Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Marc Levy.

When sitting inside Second Meeting you’re not only looking at the sky—you’re also observing how your eyes and mind perceive color. At dusk, tungsten bulbs cast a warm hue on the white walls that surround the opening in the ceiling, altering one’s perspective of this blue field. Turrell isn’t trying to trick us though—the mechanics of Second Meeting are straightforward and obvious. Rather, he encourages us to look inward and acknowledge that we form our own perceptions and thus can change them.

In the space, the walls fill your field of vision as you look upward. But as you watch our film, the walls only take up a few inches of your screen. With less of your field of vision occupied by warmly lit walls, your perception is not easily shifted. We simulated the experience as best we could, in this case, through time-lapse photography, but in the end the affect of Second Meeting simply cannot be recreated.

Second Meeting sits on private residential property. However, New York residents and visitors can find a nearly identical installation at MoMA PS1 in Queens, where it has been on public view since 1986. Concurrent retrospectives of Turrell’s work are also opening soon at the Guggenheim in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Go and experience the work for yourself.

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