After meeting Quaker artist James Turrell last year, I have been waiting for the right time to catch his permanent art installation at the PS1 art center in Queens. Turrell’s installation is only open at particular times of the day during specific times of the year, and Queens is kind of a pain to get to from Brooklyn. I finally got to go see the installation today, and boy was it worth the effort.
Entitled "The Meeting," Turrell’s installation could not be simpler. It’s basically a square room, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet, with a bench running along the wall. The ceiling is open to the sky, with just enough exposure for the sky to fill your field of vision if you lean back. And that’s the entire exhibit.
I got to PS1 at around 4pm, intending to meander through the other exhibits and relax there before seeing the Turrell piece. My friend Veronica had good things to say about the Olafur Eliasson exhibits, so I was looking forward to catching those.
What I forgot about was that on the weekends in the summer PS1 becomes a huge art party, with thousands of hipsters converging on the courtyard to drink pricey beers and pulse to cacophonous dance music. The place was a complete zoo.
Inside the museum was a bit better. But my mellow vibe was starting to shatter. I did enjoy the Eliasson works, particularly "Beauty" — a misty, dark, dank space lit by a single strobe that casts the water droplets in a spooky light. Lots of the art films were really provocative and beautiful as well.
I just love wandering through the PS1 space, which really is an old converted schoolhouse. The peeling paint and rusting equipment just add to the ambiance.
Finally it was dusk so I made my way to the third floor to catch Turrell’s "The Meeting."
Only to find a long line of people ahead of me waiting to get in. Only in New York would you find a bunch of people queuing up to sit in an empty room.
There were so many of us waiting that the guards told us that they were only going to allow us to stay in the exhibit for 15 minutes before kicking us out. As soon as the door opened at 7pm, I rushed to the center-most seat in the room, along with 30 or so other people.
This is what you see when you look up from the installation benches.
At first, there was a lot of laughing and excited talk among the visitors, not quite knowing what to make of an installation composed of just a big hole in the roof of the museum. Some people stayed for only a few minutes before retreating back to the party in the courtyard. Others called their friends on their phones and did other distracting actions.
Then an amazing thing happened. After about five minutes everyone settled down into silence. All you could hear was the "thump-thump-thump" of the dance music from downstairs. I practiced my circular breathing and felt myself enter into a serene contemplative state.
The interplay of clouds and sky was so beautiful, so graceful. A phalanx of gray clouds at one point moved across the sky, then were chased off by whispy white clouds and blue sky. The light was just beginning to dim into sunset as the guard opened the door and shooed us out.
I felt so peaceful walking out of that room, like I had emerged from a really powerful Quaker Meeting. I wanted to shake hands with everyone who was there.
It’s amazing what providing just the most simple structure for observing the world around you can do.
I can’t wait to come back to PS1. Preferably on a day when there isn’t an art party going on.