James Turrell

Interview: Eric Cahan

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If you’ve visited the Guggenheim Museum Store or checked the GREY AREA website lately, then you’re familiar with the colorful works of New York based artist Eric Cahan. Eric defines his art as a study of light and its effect on the natural world. “I’m kind of obsessed,” he admitted, “with trying to capture the same quality of light.” Eric’s art does not simply depict an attempt to capture the effect, but also conveys the memory of viewing the effect. In doing so, he converts these light illusions (like a sunrise) and the memories of seeing them into tangible, permanent objects.

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Inspiration struck Eric years ago during his visit to the Roden Crater, an extinct volcanic cinder cone, which his friend, artist James Turrell, has transformed into an art installation that showers visitors with a seemingly celestial light. Eric, a long time admirer of Turrell’s work, was hired to photograph a hotel lobby that he had designed. However, he found it impossible to capture what he saw with a camera. It was a turning point for Eric’s artistic focus, resulting in projects like his Sky series and Color Samples. 

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As for his pervasive use of resin, Eric had been exposed to the substance at Goldberg’s Ding Repair, a surfboard repair store on Montauk. The store kept excess resin in a canister that they used to glass styrofoam surfboards so they did not melt. He realized the industrial material’s artistic potential after he kicked the bottom of the canister out from under the resin and noticed the way that the build-up of material filtered the room’s light. Although Eric’s Color Samples are bright pops of color, his use of resin creates an interesting tension between the material’s original purpose (such as closing up potholes) and its now purely aesthetic function. By utilizing resin, Eric effectively renders it useless.

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When asked how he felt about his art being sold in the Guggenheim Museum, Eric said: “I’m totally blown away! Now my mom finally considers me an artist.” Putting aside Eric’s modesty, his color studies are right at home in the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building, along with James Turrell’s light installation. His bright Color Samples look like candy against the white background of the Guggenheim Museum.

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What’s next from Eric Cahan? Eric’s visual focus is an occupational hazard that promises experimental and varied upcoming works. If you loved his Color Samples, you will surely swoon over his sky-scape depictions, including a Turrell-inspired Sky space and sculptures that act as three-dimensional versions of his canvases, all of which continue his mission to represent windows into memories. Whether it’s through the use of resin, glass, or fabric, Eric Cahan immortalizes transient memories in his bold, innovative designs.

The Installation of James Turrell's Aten Reign

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Made simply of five large circles of fabric and a supporting aluminum structure, James Turrell’s Aten Reign transforms the Guggenheim’s iconic atrium into an awe-inspiring installation. To learn about how the Guggenheim and Turrell pulled off one if the most complex installations in the museum’s history, we caught up with Head Curator Nat Trotman.

With retrospective exhibitions across the country, what attracted Turrell to the Guggenheim in particular?

James Turrell visited the Guggenheim for the first time in 1966 where he saw a Barnett Newman exhibition. He was attracted to the unique roundness of the space and for this exhibition in particular he wanted a place where he could create something with curves. While LACMA and the other host galleries have rectilinear shape that is best suited for his rectilinear pieces. No building in the world has the curves and daylight that the Guggenheim rotunda has, and I think Turrell saw an opportunity to utilize this one of a kind place. 

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Not everyone realizes how long it takes to create an exhibition. When did plans for this particular one start?

At the Guggenheim, we had longstanding discussions about hosting a James Turrell show, but for this moment, this summer, I was handed the project almost six and a half years ago. That’s when we began speaking with Turrell and figuring out a way we could create a show together. 

In 2009, James had the idea to take over the Rotunda with the idea of creating conceptual layers that would make use of the daylight that comes into the space. It was a basic concept that would then manifest itself through a long back and forth between our internal installation team and Turrell, as they figured out what would be physically possible to carry out in this space.

So in the case of this art installation, it became much more of an architecture project with someone guiding the process but with a strong team who works to figure out where the vision meets reality and the logistics that accompany it. 

How many hours did the installation piece take?

Lots. I think of this project more in terms of months and days. Assembly for the project started in March, where our team was putting together pre-fabricated trusses and pieces in a warehouse in New Jersey before bringing the half assembled structure into the museum. Then once, the structure reached the Guggenheim it took about five weeks to bolt it in place and construct the walls that mask it. Each section had to be lifted and placed individually. It was a difficult task, but thanks to our talented team they were able to pull it off.