James Turrell Brings New Glow to Las Vegas

The artist’s often subtle artwork finds an unexpected niche in Las Vegas on the top floor of North America’s largest Louis Vuitton store.


Brace yourself for the summer of light: Turrell-apalooza is officially upon us! With major museum exhibitions of James Turrell’s work now on view at LACMA in Los Angeles, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Guggenheim in New York, don’t forget that a fourth American city, forever famous for its glow, has embraced the prolific septuagenarian with open arms: Las Vegas.

For decades Turrell has created meticulous environments where the interplay of light and space renders basic perception a transcendental experience. Monumentalized as a master of quietude and subtlety, his work is surprisingly at home in Sin City. As a neon playground awash in a sea of nothingness, the extreme juxtaposition of barren beauty and unchecked consumerism affords his destabilizing projects maximum impact on over-stimulated tourists.

James Turrell's play on light and space at Louis Vuitton Las Vegas.

And as you have it, the two new Turrells unveiled here in May are located at Crystals at CityCenter, The Strip’s apogee of luxury shopping. Make a phone appointment in advance and take the elevator in North America’s largest Louis Vuitton store to its secret top floor, where the doors open onto a dimly lit environment reminiscent of a spaceship. Here, attendants dressed in all white prepare visitors to enter Akhob—Egyptian for “pure water”—the artist’s largest “ganzfeld” to date. The ganzfeld effect refers to an altered state of body and mind produced by staring into an immersive color field, and the state produced here is profound.

As you step up some stairs and into concentric, womb-like rooms differentiated by slowly changing hues of light, you eventually reach the center of Akhob, a large chamber with an illusory dead end. What appears to be a flat wall the size of an oblong movie screen is in actuality a void, and a dangerous drop off into an even larger, inaccessible room where the light reverberates. It’s almost unthinkable that a hidden ovoid world like this is concealed in the angular tip of a Daniel Libeskind-designed mall!

By comparison, the other Turrell at Crystals is in outlandishly public view. It’s built into the ceiling of the platform for the monorail that connects the shopping center with adjacent resorts and to the hotels and residences of CityCenter, the largest privately funded development in the history of the United States. The scale of the place must be proportional to a massive volume of visitors who bask in the oscillating spectrum of magenta, cyan, peach, and all other shades of tinted light. From the train platform the piece is ambient to say the least—though immersive, one could conceivably miss the fact that the rays are courtesy one of the nation’s greatest living artists—but from a distance, inside the galleria, it illuminates the geometric Libeskind oculi that are cut into the walls. The resulting tableau is of vibrant, otherworldly shapes hovering over a miniature city of escalators, opulent boutiques and an open concept Starbucks… only in Vegas.

For more info or to schedule an appointment to view Akhob at Louis Vuitton City Center call (702) 730-3150.

© James Turrell, photo: Florian Holzherr