Thursday, December 12, 2013

Once Upon a Mattress…Turrell, History & the Artists of Tomorrow

Mattress Factory brochure for James Turrell: Into the Light
In celebration of several recent of James Turrell exhibitions, the Mattress Factory took you, dear blog reader, on a trip down memory lane.  Along the way, we reminisced about Turrell's first meeting with Co-Directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk in a New York City cab, peered through the lens of 1983 video camera to watch Turrell building artworks, delved deep into the scientific processes that contribute to experience of Pleiaedes, and rode along as Turrell, Barbara, and Michael rambled across the country in aU-haul with a broken-down Jaguar hitched to the back.  We saw how the trio's immediate chemistry launched a catalytic partnership resulting in new artworks, new collaborations, and the ultimate validation of the Mattress Factory's primary mission of supporting artists' creative processes above all else.

In the years following that fateful cab ride, Turrell accomplished a tremendous amount of work on Roden Crater and created artworks for museums and private collections across the world.  During those same years, the Mattress Factory launched numerous successful exhibitions highlighting artworks made by regional, national, and international artists.  As the Mattress Factory's 25th anniversary approached, it felt natural to reconnect with Turrell, to touch base, and to celebrate the milestone together.  This celebration took the form of a large-scale, yearlong exhibition of works titled James Turrell: Into the Light.

Dinner menu for Dust to Dawn, a 24-hour opening 
celebration for James Turrell: Into the Light
James Turrell: Into the Light, which opened in 2002, was the largest exhibition of Turrell artworks on the East Coast since the Whitney Museum show in 1980.  Combined with the three works in the permanent collection, the Mattress Factory presented twelve installations, models of Roden Crater, and a series of prints based on the light and space of Roden Crater.  Open for an entire year, the show provided an opportunity to familiarize patrons with Turrell's work and to build an extended dialogue around pieces then usually held in private collections or on view for a limited periods of time.  The museum opened the exhibit in grand style, with a 25-hour party.

Barbara and Michael selected Gasworks, an older example of Turrell’s Perceptual Cells series, in order to showcase a vast range of his work with light.  It was the first time the artwork had been exhibited east of the Mississippi.  A self-contained sphere into which a viewer is rolled, Gasworks presents neon lights timed to flash on the domed interior walls, creating an intense Ganzfeld, an experience of light as a homogenous visual field.
Gasworks as installed at the Mattress Factory.  Photo by Florian Holzer.
Gasworks is one of my personal favorite Turrell works, in part because we have so many cool tidbits relating to this work in the Mattress Factory Archives.  These materials speak to the sometimes arduous task of planning and executing projects intended to expand awareness of and appreciation for works of contemporary art. Here are a few examples of historical documentation of the James Turrell: Into the Light exhibit housed in the Mattress Factory Archives.

Domes for Gasworks arrived on a wide-load truck from Arizona and required a 10-man crew to carry into the lobby
Operating Instructions for James Turrell's Gasworks at the Mattress Factory

Extra, unused labels for Gasworks at the Mattress Factory
James Turrell with Gasworks on opening night of the exhibition
During the James Turrell: Into the Light exhibit, the museum presented numerous public events to facilitate discussion from a variety of viewpoints.  Speakers from many different backgrounds and with wide-ranging areas of expertise (including scientists, curators, artists, health professionals, Zen reverends, poets and archeoastonomists) shared their thoughts and engaged with audience members throughout the year-long exhibit.
Public Programs Brochure for James Turrell: Into the Light
Public events surrounding the exhibit brought the attention to the act of seeing
Many James Turrell: Into the Light public programs were free to the public

 ARTLab at the Mattress Factory
The Mattress Factory continues to engage audiences with the James Turrell works in the museum's permanent collection. ARTLab occurs every first and third Saturday and provides hands-on, interactive activities for all ages inspired by the works in our galleries. Much as our Mattress Factory artists have a chance to experiment with new materials and ideas in a space, we also want to give ARTLab visitors the experience of playing in a lab and exploring their creativity.

This past June, ARTLab participants sculpted with light by creating projection slides and played with the elusive material of light. Participants worked with color and perception as they created small slides that were projected onto the wall or into various spaces (much as Catso, Red is also a projection). James Turrell says that his work is "sculpting with light" and the ARTLab was an opportunity for visitors to play with this same idea.

Kids having fun creating light spaces with black light
An ARTLab artist with her creation
Another recent ARTLab inspired students to create collages and objects to be placed in a black-light booth. Inside the black-light booth, the collages and objects shine and glow in different, unexpected ways and the students experimented with their compositions to achieve a desired effect.  Works of art can take on a whole new character once placed in the light - and this project helped to deepen the students' understanding of the properties of light and how it can impact an experience with art.

As you can see, the history of collaboration, support, and inspiration between James Turrell and the Mattress Factory is carrying on to the artists and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.  Check the MF Website to see what the Education Department is planning next!

As much fun as it has been to dig back into the history of the collaborations between James Turrell and the Mattress Factory, there are so many other treasures and stories to tell that we'll shift gears in our next post.  Let us know if there is any artwork you're curious about and I'll see what we can dig up from the Archives.  Until then...

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