James Turrell’s Rendering for Aten Reign (2013). Site-specific installation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © James Turrell. RENDERING: ANDREAS TJELDFLAAT, 2012 © SRGF.


NEW YORK - If you’re a regular reader of "On the Loos," you know that if there’s a connection between art and wine, I’m going to try and make it. They are the twin engines of my desire.

But sometimes, I don’t even have to try—someone else is tying these topics together before I even get my hands on them. Take, for instance, the legendary James Turrell, now 70. The other week we were on the phone talking about his three-part retrospective, which launched 26 May at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and continues at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston 9 June and at the Guggenheim Museum 21 June. (He’s already at work transforming the Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda, and that will be something to see.)

Turrell—a pilot who is used to seeing the big picture in ways that the rest of us miss—uses light as his material, and he’s a true connoisseur, building galleries to catch it and display it in very specific forms. These “sky spaces” are among the most distinctive artworks of our time. Some of the light he uses is from distant stars, and some closer to home.

“Light from the sun is like Beaujolais—it’s young, and there’s plenty of it,” Turrell told me. Needless to say, I perked up at this. Turns out he’s a wine aficionado who appreciates northern Italian vino, and bottlings from California and France as well. I tried to goad him into further wine metaphors. So would older light, from, say, distant galaxies be like a well-aged Burgundy, all mellowness and subtle complexity? Not exactly, it turns out, but we had fun talking about his passion for the grape in any case.



James Turrell’s Roden Crater Project, view toward northeast. PHOTO: FLORIAN HOLZHERR.



Conversation quickly turned toward me inviting myself to visit Roden Crater, his masterpiece-in-progress. Turrell has been building sky spaces in the three-mile-wide Arizona volcanic cone for years, and he’s still at it. He kindly agreed to take me around at some unspecified future date; that’s one for my art-world bucket list for sure.

But what wine would I offer as a guest? Given the majesty of the Roden project, I think it’s a question of scale rather than one of variety. Whatever the flavor, I had better bring one of those 15-liter Nebuchadnezzars.