I'm an impatient person. I hate to wait. So when I first tried going to the Doug Wheeler exhibit at the David Zwirner gallery three Saturdays ago and saw the long line outside, I was discouraged. When a gallery employee came out after a few minutes to inform all of us on line that the wait would be at least two hours, I immediately gave up and fled. The following Saturday I returned thinking if I got to the gallery a few minutes before they opened, I would out-smart all the other gallery goers. I was mistaken. Arriving at 9:45 that cold and wet morning granted me a two hour wait in line—about an hour and a fifteen minutes standing outside in the rain/snow, and another forty-five minutes waiting inside the front of the gallery with approximately thirty others. The gallery allowed groups of ten people into Wheeler's installation at a time for 15 minute intervals. Before entering, everyone must take off their shoes and put on white paper slippers with elasticized ankles. All the long lines, the waiting, and the footwear changing was totally worth it. Wheeler's new work, SA MI 75 DZ NY 12 (2012), is an amazing, breath-taking experience.
This is only the fourth "infinity environment" Wheeler has ever exhibited in public (the first was at a gallery in Milan in 1975, the second at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1983, and the third at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2000). Like the first three installations, his current work "manipulat[es] architecture with neon and fluorescent lighting, creating entire luminous rooms in which the viewer experienced the sensation of entering an infinite void," (from the show's press release). It "explores the materiality of light while emphasizing the viewer's physical experience of infinite space."
When I finally got to approach the installation, my eyes were immediately challenged. I initially thought the wide entranceway was a wall, and hesitated walking through it. Inside the installation, the large, empty, white space has no corners or edges. The lighting, which slowly transitions from day to night, creates an ephemeral, hazy effect. Looking at the work straight on is like looking into a white abyss—never-ending whiteness. My first impression was of being inside a cloud, and then I thought of all the scenes in movies where characters walk into a magnificent white light symbolizing death. I heard others describe Wheeler's work like being inside a spaceship or what they'd imagine heaven to be like.
Wheeler was born in 1939 and started off as a painter while attending what is now the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. Like his current work, his paintings explored space, light, and perception. He was a part of the "Light and Space" movement in Southern Californina in the 1960s and 1970s and his work was featured in the terrific Primary Atmospheres: Works from California 1960-1970 exhibit at David Zwirner in 2010.
While I may be impatient, I did not mind waiting to see Wheeler's SA MI 75 DZ NY 12. In fact, I went back a third Saturday and waited a mere hour and a half to see it again. The second viewing was no less effective or awesome. It is definitely worth the effort to see Wheeler's work at Zwirner. It is a unique sensory experience. Go see it before it closes this weekend! Learn more at Davidzwirner.com. Through February 25th.