Relational aesthetics took a beating last fall as critics decried participatory artworks like Carsten Holler’s three story slide at the New Museum and MoMA’s installation of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s free lunch. The visitor’s physical experience is also key to Doug Wheeler’s installation which opened today at David Zwirner Gallery and recreates a 1975 piece made in Milan by the influential So Cal ‘Light and Space’ artist. But the hushed environment, limited to ten people at a time and entered after donning white booties so as to keep the floor pristine, is all about aesthetics, and less about interrelating with your fellow gallery goers.
The lighting in the installation changes in intensity and color as it simulates the transitions from dawn to day to dusk, slowly revealing where the boundaries of the flat floored, egg-shaped room are. But even in the strongest light, it’s a strain to make out where gallery wall ends and floor begins; only the toes can tell as you feel the floor’s upward slope. The impulse is to find the spot where your senses are most confused.
Visitors who stayed in the gallery the longest this morning inched their way to the front and center of the installation and stood looking into an optical illusion – a space that appeared to extend to infinity. The sensation was like peering into a deep fog or a snowstorm (under comfortable conditions) as my perception of space kept shifting to make sense of what I was seeing.
Wheeler’s installation recalls James Turrell’s installations, in which visitors approach a shape on the wall only to realize that it’s a rectangle of recessed light. Here, the experience is more intimate – like entering into the space occupied by light rather than gazing in from the outside. Uta Barth’s photographs of light come to mind, as do Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets but both treat light and infinity as more concrete subjects than Wheeler does with what he calls his ‘molecular mist.’ The scale and ambition of Wheeler’s project won’t be matched again soon in New York; catch it while you can and arrive early to avoid lines.
For more background, read Randy Kennedy’s Jan 15th NYT article.