A tour through James Turrell's epic Immersive Light exhibition

The illustrious light master has been drawing crowds by the West Bund

In case you haven't turned on your WeChat in the past month, we're here to inform you that world-renowned Californian artist James Turrell has arrived at the Long Museum, bringing with him works of epic proportions and showcasing a lifetime of experimentation with light, space and perspective. Read: selfie gold.

With Shanghai's art scene set for great things this year, the Long Museum is proudly claiming to host an exhibition that would be ‘almost impossible’ for any other museum anywhere in the world to replicate (soz, MoMA).


This might account for the fairly hefty entry price by Shanghai standards (200RMB). Having spent 50 years learning how to shape light into art, Turrell’s exhibition is mesmerising and inspiring in equal measure, and has been drawing massive crowds since the opening last month. Presenting 13 of his iconic light projections and space installations, including three immersive light experiences, the show also displays photographs of the artist’s work with the distinct Roden Crater in northern Arizona.


Turrell himself claims, ‘light is the essence of all art,’ and this belief is one that has directed the entirety of his work. You’ll see this first in ‘Ganzfeld’, its name taken from the technique used in parapsychology to predict telepathy and other paranormal phenomena. This sensory-deprivation experiment was first built in 1976, but has been uniquely modified for the space at the Long Museum. You enter into a small room where you remove your shoes and place industrial-style, white protective covers over your feet.


From its opening, the space first appears to be a cube-shaped room with a bright pink hue, but once inside, tangible changes of light create an illusion of indeterminate and indefinite space. It feels impossible to know where the room ends and begins, and museum security are close at hand to warn visitors as they reach the edge of what turns out to be a large platform.

The work prepares you for the rest of the exhibition, changing your perceptions and cleansing your eyes for what is to come. Following this installation comes ‘Tall Glass’, a light source on the wall programmed to change colour slowly over several hours, resembling the motion of breathing, and inviting the visitor into a meditative state.


Two of the works of art start in complete darkness, and are not for the faint-hearted, with visitors being told to hold onto the edge of the wall and guide themselves through pitch black tunnels. Turrell describes this process as, ‘all the prejudice leaving your eyes’ in order to adapt to the experiment and ultimately fully appreciate the incredible light experience at the end of each tunnel.

One of these installations, ‘Wedgework’, began as a project in 1969, and uses constructed walls angled meticulously within the space, so that fluorescent light can slice across the room, creating the awe inspiring appearance of mesmerising transparent light screens.


Heading upstairs, visitors can enjoy some epic photographs and documentation of the Roden Crater, gaining a good understanding of the magnum opus of Turrell’s lifetime of work. The extinct volcano in northern Arizona has been reshaped and carved over many years, with Turrell dedicated to eventually transforming the volcano into a multi-chambered naked-eye observatory.

Alongside the light installations, experiments and photography, Turrell includes a video presentation that tells the story of the creation of his Deer Shelter Skypace in the centre of Yorkshire Sculpture Park in northern England. Within the Skyspace, visitors are invited to experience a small section of sky, completely without distraction. There are currently over 90 Skyspaces installed at different locations across the world, including one created in 2014 at the Temple of Wisdom in Beijing.


With commentary provided by British cinema legend Dame Judi Dench, the video work at the Long Museum explains one of the possible reasons behind the wide appeal of James Turrell’s art: ‘light leaving and entering is not something that takes a lot of art knowledge to appreciate and experience. We see it everyday, everywhere.’ At the Skyspace in Yorkshire, visitors can pay to watch the sunset through the small gap in the roof of the sculpture, and although not quite as effective as the real thing, the video attempts to demonstrate the change from intense ultra-colours, to mellow blue hues.

Image角落投影+图片 (1)

As with all of James Turrell’s work, the exhibition is fascinating, interactive and intelligent, offering Shanghai an amazing opportunity to experience a unique half-century experiment. Get down there soon (because you’ll want to go again). This will certainly be one of 2017’s don’t-miss exhibitions. See full details below.

More art