unexpected glimpses of natural light phenomema
After reading about the opening of Donald Judd’s New York studio earlier this year, I’ve wondered how it’s possible that a similarly formative studio of James Turrell in Santa Monica has received so little attention. It turns out I live only a couple miles from the Mendota Hotel – so I thought it would be fun to drum up a brief history of the building so more people can appreciate a place where one of America’s great artists forged a career by inhabiting his experiments with light. Maybe someday soon he and Bill Cosby (current owner of the building) will collaborate on an installation here. Until then, all we can do is sit in the Starbucks below and imagine how light entered the rooms 45 years ago.
From 1966 to 1974, his other studio was on Main Street in Santa Monica. He transformed the building into an installation in its own right by cutting holes in walls and window coverings to focus and let in light — like the beams from passing cars. He also made his earliest light projection pieces there, creating illusions of solid geometric shapes like cubes. But developers had other plans for the building, and he was sent an eviction notice in 1974. (There is now a Starbucks in its place.)
The paradox of light does not only exist in the “outside” world. Turrell’s infamous Mendota Stoppages series (1969-1974) demonstrate that the paradox of vision also occurs in the absence of external stimuli. Mendota Stoppages made use of available light sources outside an unused hotel in the bohemian neighborhood of Ocean Park, California. From 1966-1968 Turrell spent his time sealing the room on the ground floors and making the interior walls perfectly smooth. Between 1969 and 1970, he held performances in the evenings. He directed the movement of the diagonal lines of light across the room. These performances were conducted in nine stages and by the end, viewers’ eyes had grown weary in the low light conditions. Near the end of one performance, Turrell shut all the light apertures and reduced the room to black. However, many audience members continued to see light. They believed that the lighting had remained at this low level, but they were mostly likely experiencing retinal after effects that were internally produced.
Mendotta Block, 2667 Main Street, northeast corner of Hill and Main. Legal address is 2663 Main St. An early commercial building restored to its original condition that is now owned by Comedian Bill Cosby.
In 1966, James Turrell purchased the Mendota Block that had formerly been a hotel. Turrell proceeded to augment sections of this building through the construction of additional walls, smoothly plastering surfaces and painting entire rooms (floors included) a stark white. Turrell used meticulously carved-out holes in the walls of the hotel and projection techniques to create poetic light-forms that at times took on multi-dimensional qualities, transforming the hotel to studio and then finally to the work itself.
In 1974, a group of Hollywood investors bought up his entire block in Ocean Park, forcing Turrell and several other artists, including Sam Francis and Richard Diebenkorn, to find new studios. Richard Diebenkorn moved into a new building at 2444 Main St. in Ocean Park.