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Artist James Turrell Shines Through the Set for 'An Act of God'


(L–R) Sean Hayes in "An Act of God."

Photo by Jim Cox.

Immersive art installations have become all the rage in Los Angeles, and God—and the Ahmanson Theatre—have both taken notice. Whether it’s the throngs of people lined up outside the Broad Museum to snag a spot in its Infinity Mirrored Room or the disappointment of so many Angelenos in not securing a reservation to Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Rain Room, the public is clamoring for art they can see, feel, and stand in.

But Los Angeles has been at the forefront of these types of art experiences since the 1960s, when the city was the center of the Light and Space Movement and home to its superstar artist, local legend James Turrell, who became famous for creating light and space environments. (And is also famous, among a younger generation, for inspiring Drake’s recent music video for “Hotline Bling.”) To view a work by Turrell is not so much looking at something but rather experiencing a place where a human’s perception becomes the art.

You can see Turrell’s influence right now at the Ahmanson, in the set for An Act of God, which plays through March 13, 2016. In his New York Times review of the show, Charles Isherwood lauded the “eye-dazzling set by Scott Pask, reminiscent of both James Turrell’s recent Guggenheim exhibition and the design ethos of Busby Berkeley musicals.

In Pask’s design I see not only echoes of 2013’s Aten Reign at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York but also strong references to Turrell’s Skyspaces.



Mood indigo #love#turrellskyspace#turrell

A photo posted by fleur de éther (@d.ether) on

It is also eerily similar to the work-in-progress Turrell has been creating at Arizona’s Roden Crater for nearly 40 years.  Located in the remote Painted Desert of Northern Arizona, Roden Crater is the culmination of Turrell’s work—a controlled environment built within a volcanic cinder cone, providing the ultimate space for contemplation of light.


“Nature loves the ellipse” —James Turrell. Photograph by Florian Holzherr.

A photo posted by James Turrell (@rodencrater) on

Sean Hayes may claim to be the King of the Universe in the production at the Ahmanson, but his throne is our window into his world onstage, as it conveys His every feeling. Like one of Turrell’s Skyspaces at sunset, the changing colors of the throne seem to signify different moods. The aperture behind God allows us to look right into His brain (with its violently fluctuating weather included). The hilarious script is only enhanced when Lighting Designer High Vanstone (who also so skillfully commanded the tone in last season’s Matilda The Musical) uses the set as his canvas to literally color David Javerbaum’s words onto the steps at the center of the stage.

In An Act of God, the artists attempt to use the power of a James Turrell-like environment as the backdrop for the most forceful being imaginable. And indeed, when you visit an installation by James Turrell, it is an all-encompassing immersive experience. At Turrell’s Breathing Light (currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), you’re not allowed to take pictures, so nothing can take away from your full absorption of the work. It’s an experience that can completely take control of your consciousness and serve as a retreat from the chaos of the outside world. One might even liken it to a religious experience.

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