James Turrell Drenches Norfolk’s Majestic Houghton Hall In Colour

James Turrell

 Light is a powerful substance – James Turrell

The Magnificent Palladian Houghton Hall in Norfolk, built by Britain’s first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole by Colen Campbell and James Gibbs with interiors by William Kent owned by the 7th Marquess of Cholmendeley, is currently hosting an exhibition ‘Lightscape’ by the renowned American artist James Turrell.

Artlyst was privileged to attend a very special preview of the exhibition, which centres around Turrell’s works in Lord Cholmendeley’s collection plus additional works on loan.  Lord Cholmendeley has been collecting modern sculpture for many years and his impressive collection is dotted around the grounds of the estate. Turrell’s ‘Skyscape’ was the first to be commissioned in the year 2000. It takes the form of a wooden purpose built viewing chamber with a square aperture open to the sky that is lit from the inside. It is an immersive piece that totally enthrals and transfixes the viewer.  The viewing experience changes depending on the time of day.  During the preview I visited the space twice: once in daylight when you become absorbed by the cloud formations in the sky and a second time at dusk when the chamber becomes lit and the sky almost transforms into one of his man made projections. However at both times it creates a synchronicity with nature and the environment and has the ability to turn the staunchest of cynics into a pantheist.  It pre-dates Turrell’s similar Skyspace in the converted Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  Both environments have the advantage of unpolluted skies and on clear nights a perfect place to star watch.

Since Lord Cholmendeley’s first purchase, sculptures by Richard Long, Anya Gallacio, Zhan Wang, Stephen Cox, Jeppe Hein and Rachel Whiteread have been added to the collection, many specifically created for a particular place in the grounds.  The Richard Long in particular is spectacular: a large slate circle set in a manicured lawn facing the west façade of the house that was glistening on this particular sunny June afternoon. 

The main part of the Turrell exhibition takes place on the ground floor of the main house.  Small darkened chambers contain individual light pieces such as the green shaft of Enzu, Green, 1968, the red triangular shaped Raaethro, Red, from 1969, Shirim 2015 a screen of changing colours hypnotising and drawing you in plus models and photographs for his ambitious Roden Crater project in Arizona.  A curved corridor displays his First Light series of black and white etchings and aquatints. The black is absorbed into the background while the white shapes are spot lit and glow in the dark making them appear three-dimensional with the curve of the room uniting them.  The house’s stable block hosts other installations: my favourite being Raemar Magenta, 1970 a framed rectangle of changing hues that fill the entire space. 

At dusk, the entire west façade of the hall became a spectacle of light – a 45-minute light show of subtle changes filling the architectural details: the staircase, the colonnades, the turrets, the pediment, with a glow of colour. One minute they are green and blue then blue, purple and magenta take over.   

Watch for James Turrell in Conversation coming soon.

Words: Sara Faith Photos: P C Robinson © artlyst 2015


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