Turrell’s ‘Gard Blue’ to fill Spencer Museum’s Central Court with light

Gard Blue, 1968. © James Turrell. Photograph by Florian Holzherr. Collection of Mark and Lauren Booth.

Light artist James Turrell at Roden Crater, an extinct volcanic cinder cone in Arizona that Turrell is transforming into a work of art. Copyright James Turrell. Photograph by Florian Holzherr.

Untitled (26RIR+A), 2008. Transmission light work. 61 ½ x 39 ½” (156.2 x 100.3 cm). © James Turrell. Photograph by Joerg Lohse, courtesy Pace Gallery.

As crowds flock to James Turrell’s simultaneous retrospectives at major museums in New York, Los Angeles and Houston, Lawrence residents will have a closer-to-home option for viewing work by the artist Forbes magazine called “the art world’s brightest luminary this year.”

On Sept. 15, Kansas University’s Spencer Museum of Art will open “James Turrell: Gard Blue” in the museum’s Central Court.

“For the past half century, Turrell, the pre-eminent light artist of our time, has worked directly with light and space to create artworks that engage viewers with the limits and wonder of human perception,” the Spencer announcement says. “… ‘Gard Blue,’ created in 1968, marks the crucial juncture when Turrell shifted the viewer’s attention to perception and the phenomenon of pure light, which is his medium.”

“Gard Blue,” a projection of blue light in an enclosed space, will appear in a large, box-like room constructed specifically for the artwork inside the Spencer’s Central Court. Holograms created more recently by Turrell will surround the headlining work, representing his ever-developing vision.

Decades into his art career, Turrell is “light years ahead of his time,” museum director Saralyn Reece Hardy said in the announcement. “His astonishing perceptive power and imagination have created an art of the future, one that changes how we see, think and live.”

Turrell’s childhood fascination with light and training in perceptual psychology informed his experimentation with light as an art medium in the mid-1960s, when he emerged as a leader of the West Coast’s avant-garde Light and Space Movement.

The New York City’s Guggenheim museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, all are featuring installations of Turrell’s work, a trio a recent New York Times magazine cover story described as “the biggest event in the art world this summer.”

Though on a significantly smaller scale, the Spencer’s Turrell exhibition requires no tickets. The free exhibition will remain on view through May 18 at the museum, 1301 Mississippi St. “Gard Blue” is on loan to the Spencer from patrons and collectors KU alumnus Mark Booth and his wife, artist Lauren Booth.