FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) present from November 27, 2013 to November 2, 2014 “Aisthesis – All’origine delle sensazioni. Robert Irwin and James Turrell at Villa Panza”, an exhibition that intends to document the work and the research of two leading figures of Environmental Art. This event, realized in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and the Panza Archive in Mendrisio, will involve entirely the spaces of the villa.

The nineteen works in the exhibition - a substantial number of which comes from international public and private collections such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington and The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego – range from site-specific installations, to projections and sculptures and illustrate the research undertaken by these artists using light as a creative medium, as well as the fruitful relationship they built with Giuseppe Panza di Biumo.

Light, perception and space: these are the main elements of Irwin and Turrell’s investigations that led the two artists towards a unique and innovative approach in the history of art. Giuseppe Panza was deeply interested in the specificity of their work and fascinated by many characteristics of Los Angeles: its particular light and colours, the surrounding desert and the technological innovation that provided young artists with the possibility to integrate different fields of knowledge.

Thanks to Giuseppe Panza di Biumo’s innovative commissions, both the artists were already represented in his house in Varese from the early 70s, with memorable site-specific works (Villa Panza is the only Italian institution that hosts their instllations) that marked the persisting relationship, in their practice, between the use of architecture and the creation of new visual experiences for the viewer: Varese Portal Room, Varese Scrim, Varese Window Room (1973) by Robert Irwin; Lunette, Skyspace I and Virga (1974) by James Turrell.

For this exhibition Robert Irwin and James Turrell will realize new works, specifically thought for the spaces of the Villa. A new Ganzfeld by James Turrell occupies the Scuderia Grande. Ganzfeld is a German word, derived from psychology, that means ‘entire fiel’ and indicates the phenomenon of the total loss of depth perception as in the experience of a white- out. In this ‘sensing space’, as the artist called it, sophisticated lights, together with an apparently blank environment, hinder the visitor's gaze to latch onto any specific part of the architecture, creating in this way an overlapping of internally and externally generated visual sensations. “You are not really sure which way is up or down”, says Turrell, "I am interested in this new landscape without horizon".

Robert Irwin has designed - after forty years from his first intervention in Varese, and for this occasion - a new site-conditional project titled Villa Panza 2013 that dialogues with Varese Scrim (1973), one of his first works made for the Rustici on the first floor. Manipulating the environment and occupying the Limonaia, the artist has created a pure space shaped by natural light and by a scrim that, tracing a geometric maze, wants to evoke the relentless pursuit of the human personal journey. “The intention of a phenomenal art – says Irwin – is simply the gift of seeing a little more today than you did yesterday”.

The exhibition presents also three key Projection Pieces by James Turrell: Wallen (White), 1976, Shanta (Blue), 1967 and Afrum I (White), 1967. The latter was purchased by Giuseppe Panza in the early 70s and is now part of the permanent collection of the Guggenheim in New York, among other works donated by the Italian collector to the museum. Through the projection of light, Afrum I (White), allows the viewer to see a luminous cube floating in a corner of the room, a sort of palpable presence: blinking or changing position, the cube disappears and the light seems to slide flat on the wall, thus drawing the attention onto the solid’s delicate and elusive nature. The project for Shanta (Blue) was purchased by Panza in the 70s and will be realized for the first time on the occasion of this exhibition.

After the light projection Wallen (White), continuing in the rooms of the museum, the visitor finds three historical works by Robert Irwin: Untitled (Dot Painting, One of a Series of 10 each unique), made between 1963 and 1965, is followed by untitled (1969), a wall-mounted white acrylic disc that belongs to the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. The work emphasizes the need of the artist to question the bonds of the painting frame and, through the use of natural and artificial light, to go beyond the borders of our state of consciousness into an undetermined physicality. Third in this sequence, Untitled (Column), 2011, a tall acrylic column that refracts light and casts colours as the sun moves through the room. In the Scuderia Piccola, Piccadilly (2013), made of fifty-two vertically oriented fluorescent lights, shows the growing interest in the complexity of colour that characterizes Irwin’s most recent works.

Among the latest works in the show by James Turrell, a series of Holograms (realized between 2011 and 2013) examine the phenomenon of the light itself, capturing its normally fleeting qualities and allowing light to become the object. These pieces consist of recordings of light waves on a thin layer of transparent gelatin emulsion - made through scrupulous and unpredictable exposures to light – and intend to document the ongoing technological innovations of Turrell’s practice, that coincide with his interest for changing colours and the diverse properties of light.

The exhibition aims to document also the collaboration between Robert Irwin and James Turrell within the ‘Art and Technology’ programme, organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1968 and designed to investigate the relationship between art and technology through the collaboration of artists and engineers. The two artists, together with the psychologist Ed Wortz, developed a series of experiments with a particular focus on the aspects related to sensory deprivation. The project, that immediately drew the attention of Giuseppe Panza, had a great impact on their practice: they started developing a keen interest in the creation of immersive environments and installations. Perception, meditative states and awareness of the physical aspects of vision, became fundamental elements of their work.

To accompany the exhibition there will be a documentary section and new video interviews that investigate the relationship between Giuseppe Panza, Robert Irwin and James Turrell throughout the years. A series of letters, texts, projects and photographs from the Getty Research Library (Los Angeles) and the Guggenheim Museum (New York), will provide the viewer with an in-depth look into the artists’ projects and practice. The exhibition is curated by Michael Govan, Director of The LACMA and by Anna Bernardini, Director of Villa e Collezione Panza.

Read also:

Villa and Collezione Panza

Piazza Litta, 1
Varese 21100 Italy
Tel. +39 0332 283960

Opening Hours

Open every day except non-public-holiday Mondays: 10.00-18.00
Sundays and public holidays: 10.00-20.00
Last entry: 45 minutes before closing time
Given the particular nature of the work, James Turrell's Ganzfeld can only be visited by up to 8 people at a time, in 10-minute slots. A pass with the visiting time will be supplied to visitors upon purchasing their tickets. It is crucial to respect the stated time, otherwise the visit to the artwork will be cancelled.