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Spencer museum receives major art donation by internationally renowned light artist James Turrell

Thursday, May 15, 2014

LAWRENCE — As the Spencer Museum of Art’s celebrated exhibition “James Turrell: Gard Blue” draws to a close, the art museum has announced that collectors Mark and Lauren Booth have donated a significant work of art by Turrell, an internationally renowned light artist.

Mark Booth, a University of Kansas alumnus, and Lauren Booth, an artist, loaned “Gard Blue” as the centerpiece for the Spencer’s nine-month exhibition and announced their intent to donate the work for the art museum’s permanent collection.

“The Spencer is the right home for ‘Gard Blue.’ We are thrilled for it to be at the university,” Mark Booth said.  

Museum Director Saralyn Reece Hardy, who led the initiative to show “Gard Blue,” said the gift reveals the Booths’ commitment to public education and the important role that art plays in the education of the whole person.

“This gift from Mark and Lauren Booth demonstrates their vision as collectors and their astounding generosity,” Hardy said. “Adding a Turrell of this significance and power, from his early period of discovery, to our collection is transformative.”

“James Turrell’s ‘Gard Blue’ is an enthralling piece. We’ve been so pleased to have it on loan from the Booths, and it will make a wonderful addition to the Spencer’s permanent collection. Mark is a longtime supporter of the university, and a great connoisseur of modern art, and I’d like to thank both him and Lauren for their generous gift,” KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said.

“Gard Blue,” a cross-projection created by Turrell in 1968, marks the crucial juncture when he shifted the viewer’s attention to perception and the phenomenon of pure light, which is his medium. Appearing in a large, box-like room constructed specifically for its display, “Gard Blue” is a projection of blue light in an enclosed space. The clarity of “Gard Blue’s” seemingly material shape is held by a single, arresting color emanation. The work encourages sustained attention and demands sensory revelation.

“My work has no object, no image and no focus,” Turrell has said. “With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? You are looking at you looking. What is important to me is to create an experience of worldless thought.”

For the past half-century, Turrell, the pre-eminent light artist of our time, has worked directly with light and space to create artworks that engage viewers with the limits and wonder of human perception. Informed by his training in perceptual psychology and a childhood fascination with light, Turrell began experimenting with light as a medium in Southern California in the mid-1960s and emerged as a leader of the West Coast’s avant-garde Light and Space Movement. Today, Turrell remains on the cutting edge.

Hardy believes that, decades into his extraordinary art career, Turrell is light years ahead of his time.

“His astonishing perceptive power and imagination have created an art of the future,” she said, “one that changes how we see, think and live.”

“Gard Blue” will remain on view through Aug. 3.

The Spencer’s exhibition, which opened in September 2013, built on the momentum of three simultaneous Turrell retrospectives at major U.S. museums — the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — and provided local and regional art audiences with the rare opportunity to experience Turrell’s art close to home.

The Spencer Museum of Art houses an internationally known collection that is deep and diverse, including artworks and artifacts in all media. The collection spans the history of European and American art from ancient to contemporary, and includes broad and significant holdings of East Asian art. Areas of special strength include medieval panel painting and religious sculpture; the Kress Study Collection of early modern Italian painting; 19th-century American art and material culture; old master prints; photography; European, East Asian, and Indian textiles; American Indian pottery, beadwork, and jewelry; African sculpture; Japanese Edo-period prints; and 20th-century Chinese painting.