Colour, light and bumping into strangers

19 January 2015

Will you see the James Turrell: A Retrospective at the NGA in Canberra? We went the day it opened and loved it. I'm even contemplating a second visit before it closes in June and another go in the much talked about Perceptual Cell.

Sometimes blockbuster art exhibitions can be really crowded. I remember one year we went to see the Salvador Dali show at the National Gallery of Victoria, where the crowd moved around the show politely in one giant queue. Tony spotted a guy who just stared at the back of the person's head in front of him when he wasn't positioned right in front of a painting. This show wasn't like that, in fact it was surprisingly quiet.

I found out later that it's ticketed in a very deliberate way to make sure there's only a certain number of people in the space at any one time. It really works, making it easy to explore some of the more enveloping built spaces in some solitude. It also had the effect of creating a temporary community and at times we found ourselves chatting about what was in front of us with someone we'd seen a couple of times before.

You experience this show in quite a bodily way, it's not just about looking but sometimes about feeling your way into a space or bravely entering it, particularly the one that is characterised by an extreme lack of light. I had actually thought I was inside that space only to realise that I was facing a wall and had a turn and a couple more steps to go. I worked that out and promptly walked into a stranger before I was finally in. That space (not to give too much away) was one of my favourites - it made me feel like I was in an underground tunnel of a Murakami novel, which was very surreal.

There were other spaces to climb into (very fun!) and one space so imaginative and bright that I stepped into it and said 'Wow,' a little too loudly, not noticing the other people already quietly observing it from the inside.

I won't tell you too much about the Perceptual Cell, only that it looks this giant white eye-ball of a thing that you'll spot as soon as you enter the show. Both Tony and I had a turn (you get an option of 'hard' or 'soft' for your personal 15 minute light show and we both went 'soft') and it was the very first artwork I could experience properly without my glasses. Just a practical tip, the gallery is very strict with the timing so follow the instructions on your ticket very closely otherwise you might miss out!

And just for fun, here are some photos of James Turrell's permanent Skyspace structure at the NGA, Within, Without. You can see it any time for free but the optimal viewing times are listed and updated on the gallery's website every day to match sunrise and sunset. We went at sunset a few years ago and settled back on the cold concrete wall as the sun went down to watch a light show and stare at the sky through the moon-shaped cutout in the middle of the dome.

My family has visited during the day, where they were too busy looking up to notice me sneaking this photo.

If you're lucky, you might bump into the artist who made a surprise visit to the show just this week. James Turrell's latest Skyspace has just opened in Hobart, at MONA and I would love to check it out this year! Along with burgers from The Standard of course.

P.S In Canberra, we love Silo Bakery for brunch and takeaway baguettes and coffee. I have dreamt about Brodburger and as big pasta fans, we really love Italian & Sons for dinner. The Palace Electric cinema in the super fun area of New Acton also seems to show whatever movie I'm trying to hunt down at that moment.

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