James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view, © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

This summer, James Turrell has transformed the Guggenheim into a jaw-dropping, neck-cranking, ever-shifting experience with light and space.

Turrell has re-sculpted the massive interior of the iconic rotunda with tiers of white fabric over unseen scaffolding. Unsagging and seamless, the perfection of the material allows the physicality of the light to become the primary focus as both natural and LED lights shift from one color to the next at the speed of a sunset. This piece, titled Aten Reign, is completely immersive, altering not just the 6-story ceiling, but changing your entire perception of the world around you (at moments I forgot what “white” looked like).

James Turrell Resculpts the Guggenheim with Light in main art  Category

James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view, © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

James Turrell Resculpts the Guggenheim with Light in main art  Category

James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view, © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Turrell isn’t the first to rethink the Guggenheim. Though one of the most visited museums in the world, it is ironically one of the worst spaces to actually view art. If the curved walls, low ceilings, blinding windows (often covered) and energy-draining incline weren’t bad enough, the view from the lobby is so incredible that it eclipses the experience of any exhibition viewed immediately after it. Any attempt by an artist or curator to ignore or fight the dominance of the architecture is simply overshadowed. Successful exhibitions in recent years have found unique ways to collaborate with the structure. Brilliant examples include Maurizio Cattelan’s hanging retrospective, or Tino Sehal’s exhibition of nothing at all.

But James Turrell has done something even more amazing. He hasn’t rethought his own art in the shadow (or curve) of the Guggenheim, he has USED the building like a tube of paint. It’s as if the building was actually built FOR James Turrell, who for decades has been encouraging art viewers to look up in his “skyspaces.” (One is on permanent view at P.S.1. in Queens).

James Turrell Resculpts the Guggenheim with Light in main art  Category

James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view, © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

James Turrell Resculpts the Guggenheim with Light in main art  Category

James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view, © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

James Turrell Resculpts the Guggenheim with Light in main art  Category

James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view, © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Visitors who walk up the iconic curved ramp, now sandwiched between the original and temporary walls of Frank Lloyd Wright and James Turrell, will find another strange work in the highest exhibition room. That piece is titled Iltar and consists of 2 rooms with a rectangular opening between them. The room in which the viewer stands is lit, and the other is not (except by the ambient light of the first room). Forbidden from too closely approaching, space becomes matter as the hole is perceived as a two-dimensional grey rectangle painted on the wall. While the massive Aten Reign exaggerates your depth perception in a slow explosion of saturated color, Iltar completely collapses it in a world of grey.

James Turrell Resculpts the Guggenheim with Light in main art  Category

James Turrell, “Iltar”, 1976, © James Turrell, Photo: Installation view at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, 1980, courtesy of the artist

If you are near New York City this summer, don’t miss it. One word of advice: Due to reduced capacity and the desire to stay for hours, there may be extremely long lines. To save a substantial amount of wait time, pre-purchase your tickets online here (ticket holders are given a separate and faster line) and get there just before the museum opens at 10am.

What: James Turrell
Where: The Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue, New York, NY
When: June 21 – September 25, 2013