Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface, MCASD La Jolla, La Jolla, CA, MCASD Downtown, San Diego, CA

James Turrell, “Wedgework V,” 1975
Fluorescent light, dimensions variable

September 25, 2011–January 22, 2012

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is pleased to announce its most ambitious exhibition to date, Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface. This exhibition is on view at the Museum’s La Jolla and downtown San Diego locations from September 25, 2011 through January 22, 2012.

In the 1960s and 70s, light became a primary medium for a loosely-affiliated group of artists working in Los Angeles. Whether by directing the flow of natural light, embedding artificial light within objects or architecture, or by playing with light through the use of transparent, translucent or reflective materials, these artists each made perception itself the subject of their work. Key examples of this approach include immersive environments by Bruce Nauman and Eric Orr, each of which each produce extreme retinal responses; the otherworldly glow of a Doug Wheeler light environment; a spatially perplexing light piece from James Turrell’s Wedgework series, and the subtle sculpting of space with natural light by Robert Irwin.

In addition to artworks which literally claim the entire space of the room, the exhibition features a number of pieces that function as prisms or mirrors to activate their surrounding space. The properties of glass are explored in Larry Bell’s glass cubes and in paintings by Mary Corse which are embedded with tiny glass microbeads. The luminous and prismatic effects of cast or vacuum-formed resins and plastics are demonstrated with exceptional works by Peter Alexander, Ron Cooper, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, Helen Pashgian and De Wain Valentine. Lush pigmentation and supreme reflectivity combine in John McCracken’s lacquered sculptures to create bold objects which paradoxically melt into their environment by acting as mirrors.

Combining key works from the Museum’s collection with major loans from prominent public and private collections, the exhibition includes immersive light installations together with rare, ephemeral, and site-conditioned works, some seen for the first time in decades.

Phenomenal is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated 250-page scholarly catalogue co-published by MCASD and University of California Press. The first critical reader on this topic, the Phenomenal book is a key addition to literature on art made in Los Angeles during the vibrant decades of the 1960s and 70s. The book is edited by Robin Clark.

Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface is part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980. This unprecedented collaboration, initiated by the Getty, brings together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months beginning October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a major new force in the art world. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.

Featured Artists
Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Ron Cooper, Mary Corse, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken, Bruce Nauman, Eric Orr, Helen Pashgian, James Turrell, De Wain Valentine, Doug Wheeler