The most unique and surreal art viewing experience in New York right now is… an “empty room”. For decades, artist Doug Wheeler has been pushing the perception of light in meticulously controlled rooms. His latest work is on view at David Zwirner Gallery in New York through March 21st and must be seen (and entered) to be believed.
Titled “49 Nord 6 Est 68 Ven 12 FL,” visitors enter a completely white environment with a high-gloss floor that features a strange blank wall lit from a hidden source. From a distance, it feels like glowing rectangle of pure light. As you approach however, your focus dissolves and it feels like peering into an infinity of white. It’s as if there IS no wall at all.
The effect is achieved because visitors are actually standing in a smaller room within a room, facing a larger lit wall that extends beyond a new floor, ceiling, and perfect walls. That larger lit wall is curved at its “corners” to give your eye no point of reference, with texture so smooth that it’s difficult to gauge distance – is that wall one foot away or 10 feet? You are left only with perceiving the light itself.
The gallery has provided some incredible images featured here, and I’ve added a couple of my own photographs to get you closer. But, much like a photograph of a sunset, it doesn’t look the same through a camera as it does with your eyes. One of the most fascinating elements of Wheeler’s work is that it’s SO outside our normal “perception experience” that no technology has been calibrated to capture it.
The exhibition is located at 519 W. 19th Street in New York City, but visitors must ENTER though the building next door at 525 W. 19th Street (likely to prevent door-opening light fluctuations), but it does make finding the exhibition a bit more fun. And don’t miss the schematic drawing in the entrance hallway (below). It holds some answers… and secrets.
For example, item “f” and “g” (see detail of the “key” below) make a quick note about the TYPE of light – and it might surprise you. The unfamiliar color is the result of a combination of two different colors of bulbs: “White UV” and “Grow-Lux”, a type of plant growing light. Wheeler has mentioned that he tested countless colors of light and gas to find this particular effect, but it is strange that such an “alien” experience is produced by such “natural” lights.
A note about the floor in item “h” (above) may be the most intriguing of all: “Birch ply floor on a 1 degree incline”. Wait… the floor isn’t level?!?! This near-imperceptible tiny shift of gravity must put viewers slightly off-balance, increasing the other-worldly feel of the experience. It’s a reminder that you’re not looking at a wall… you’re IN a work of art.
I recommend remaining in the room longer than you think you should. Stay for several waves of visitors. Over time, your eyes will adjust to the color of the light and your mind will slow to match the speed of the work. Yes you’ll look amazing on Instagram, but BECAUSE a camera can’t fully capture the “reality” of this, spend some time with your own eyes – because though the room is empty, it’s one of the most unique visual experiences on the planet.
What: Doug Wheeler at David Zwirner “49 Nord 6 Est 68 Ven 12 FL” 2020
Where: David Zwirner Gallery, 519 W 19th Street (entrance through 525 W 19th Street), New York, NY
When: January 24 – March 21, 2020
All images (unless otherwise noted) © Doug Wheeler, Courtesy Doug Wheeler and David Zwirner Gallery, New York