James Turrell’s Ganzfeld Stays on View


The best news from LACMA!

Originally posted on Unframed The LACMA Blog:

Earlier this month, James Turrell celebrated his 71st birthday. “That can’t be right,” I thought when I heard the news. “He just celebrated his 70th when we opened his exhibition.” It seems like just yesterday that James Turrell: A Retrospective opened at LACMA, filling the second floor of BCAM and a third of the Resnick Pavilion for 11 months. The popular show finally closed in April, and is now just weeks away from opening at its next venue—the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (It will continue to circumnavigate the globe with subsequent stops in Australia and Japan.)

James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

While the exhibition has left L.A., Angelenos still have reason for joy: one artwork is staying put at LACMA. Breathing Light, the…

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lovely, ordinary, useless


Sometimes the most ordinary things spark the imagination. Nearly everything about this burned out light bulb is intriguing. I love that it remains present despite the fact that it can no longer carry out the work that it was originally intended for.


The contrast between the clear glass, and the black soot of burning out is a lovely kind of counterpoint. I love that the delicate curled wire that once produced light is now uneven, perfect on one side and missing on the other, it’s broken remains free to float around inside the glass.


I love the lined shadow it creates when basking in sunlight. Even it’s size, shape, and weight feel comforting to my hand. I imagine that the light bulb is now free, no longer burdened with the task of carrying electricity for the purpose of creating light, as it’s designers imagined, it can now take on other meanings, other functions.


What if I too let go of the functions others projected onto me, their designs, intentions, plans? Perhaps I too, could find a delightful new purpose and freedom in my uselessness.

What to reflect? A question for the artist in me.

“The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?” -Pablo Picasso

Somewhere along the line, the visual representation of the most grotesque elements of our humanity has become celebrated. The recent record breaking sales of Frances Bacon’s triptych of Lucian Freud at Christie’s, as well as Zeng Fanzhi’s, “The Last Supper” at Sotheby’s  are powerful global examples of this truth. Even contemporary Chinese art isn’t immune to this trend of reflecting the most difficult parts of our human experience.

It is easy to understand the temptation to create with a kind of vengeance. To place back onto the world’s lap a highly crafted regurgitation of the horrors of life on planet Earth. The list of artists whose footsteps you could follow is seemingly endless. Just spend one day in a college level Survey of Contemporary Art class, and you will find out! The powerful truth is that no one’s deepest needs are really being met, and as a result we humans have developed a very severe case of the nasties.   It is not illogical or false what these artworks are reflecting.

So what to say with one’s work?  It this really the only truth out there? Is our imagination so limited that we cannot find another way? Is the best solution for the artist to create works that challenge, offend, dominate, even horrify the viewer? Is that really the task of contemporary art? I certainly don’t believe it is.

I remembering being 5 years old, watching my Kindergarten teacher use fear and domination to control our class, feeling with every molecule in my body that there was a better way to do things.  When I look at much of contemporary art, I am left in the same state. Yes, the world hurts, and it’s tempting to answer pain with pain, but throwing our suffering and isolation at others via a work of art doesn’t resolve the problem.

But what’s the alternative? Mindless decorative entertainment? Obviously, that doesn’t work either. Being a tool for one’s own denial, or reinforcing it in others is just as fruitless a path.

Perhaps my answer is acknowledging the truth of what the world is, and then seeking to separate and rise above it.  Perhaps once I am able to do this, then I will find a way to show viewers another kind of space, without entertaining them, without becoming a doormat to numbing out. Perhaps once I as an artist am able create a space within myself that is beyond the pain, not around it or over it, but through it, past it. Perhaps then I can find the visual language to show the same to my viewers.

Interview with an artist


Richard Serra, Between the Torus and the Sphere (Toruaren eta esferaren artean), 2003-2005

Since I am in process of creating a return to the art world for myself, and have much on my mind, just for fun, I thought I would interview myself.  As my thoughts expand, I imagine I will be adding to this conversation.

What do you think of the much discussed idea that artists must create a “brand,” “image,” and/ or “persona” to be successful?

What is the purpose of art? Why make it? For me it is one of the best, truest, most satisfying ways I can express myself. Beyond that, I view art as a playful arena in which I hope to create experiences which are new, fresh, never seen before.  These ideas: “branding”, “image”, the projection of a “persona”, are in complete opposition to the expression of the true self, and have nothing to do with true creative play.

Every time I think of these ideas/issues Richard Serra comes to mind.  I mean, God forbid he would ever wake up one morning and decide he wanted to knit.  This would be career suicide for him.  But what about his art?  What about his own thinking and creative process? Perhaps working with a medium so completely opposite of steel would expand his own process in unimaginable ways, that would bring it to an even higher level. Don’t get me wrong, I love Serra’s work, but for me the fact that his success has been built on a such a singular medium presented in such similar forms, is a carefully crafted prison.

I am painfully aware that these ideas of “branding,” ‘image’ and “persona” are the bedrock of conventional wisdom, and are tools that many an artist has used to create a career or themselves.  Regardless, for me I see them as enemies  of any artist’s highest, and most complete expression, as well as enemies of the true self at the core of the artist themselves.

cow 1966

Andy Warhol, Cow, 1966

Seriously, Serra? Why not Warhol, or Jeff Koons? Perhaps even Thomas Kinkade?

Yes, those would be the more traditional choices.  It’s tempting to blame Warhol for this whole obsession with branding and persona, but obviously it’s root and expression within the art world is far more complex.

Perhaps I’m responding to the singularity of the medium and form Serra is best known for: massive rectangular sheets of steel in various configurations. This is a pretty narrow spectrum to work with.  Even the drawings I’ve seen of his are large black slabs on paper. When you see a Serra you know it’s his.  I just wonder if some of the simple joy of creation has been lost in the process.

In your current work you are exploring a variety of styles. Why is this?

James Turrell once said that taste was a form of censorship.  I believe style can be the same.  Since I am returning to the act of art making after so many years, I am making great strides not to censor myself.  One of my dreams has always been to be in a place where I can fully explore each artistic idea that comes to me.  I find that I have so many more ideas than I have time, energy, space, and resources to create.  If I where to limit myself  to a singular style this would further inhibit me.

Picasso three women at a fountain study 1921

Picasso Three Women at a Fountain, Study, 1921

Having said this, in the process of allowing myself to vary my style so widely, I am beginning to see the wisdom of Picasso’s strategy of mastering one style and then moving on to another.  For the sake of technical execution, simultaneously working on a number of styles is somewhat counterproductive. I expect that I may have a higher failure rate due to the variation within my work. I am working on being at peace with this. Willingness to push up to the edge of failure, and sometimes go sliding or crashing over, is necessary for true innovation.


Picasso, Nu Couche, 1932

You say you want to create something new, something fresh, yet you are working in a very traditional medium (pastels), and your styles are not yet unique, can you explain this?

In order to venture into the world of the new, one must begin by doing things that one hasn’t done before. Yes, one can see all kinds of references to other artists in my work. Nevertheless, with each piece I seek to create something that I have never done before.  There is value in re-creating what others have done in order to expand and perfect one’s own process and technique.  It is my aim to continually look at each work as a chance to make something new to my own hand. If I sincerely follow this process, it is my hope that in time my work will become truly “new” in a broader sense, not just in the vocabulary of my own hands and eyes.

As for the traditional medium of pastels, it is something I kind of stumbled upon due to random circumstances. However I find it a joyful medium, and am enjoying working with it in non-traditional ways. Most pastel artists are also realists or Impressionists.  I am using it to create abstractions, which is not a common practice.

Why did you become an artist? Why are you deciding to return to the field now?

long photo crop

Untitled Pastel, Melissa Prichard 2013

I love the process of creating with my hands, I love the physicality of it. I love building things.  I have always associated the art making process with the ultimate expression of freedom. Of course when I went to art school I soon discovered that the art world has absolutely nothing to do with freedom, which is one reason I stopped the pursuit of an art career many years ago.  Now that I am older,  I realize the complete futility of allowing the mindset of others to shape my choices.  I seek to return to this field with a joy and lightness, knowing that this is what I want to do with my life at this moment.  What could be better than playing with color and form?