Visitors to James Turrell’s monumental light installation currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum probably noticed that Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous rotunda has been completely transformed. Rather than quickly passing through on the way to exhibits on the upper floors, people gather in the rotunda, lounging on the nearly 360 degree benches or standing around and staring up at the light emanating from the five concentric rings installed for Aten Reign, the largest of Turrell’s installations that make up the exhibit. 

Light is the focal point of the exhibition, just as it is in all of Turrell’s oeuvre. The rotunda glows brightly as colors fade into each other. The installation brings Wright’s sleek architecture into focus, as the light makes the museum’s bare surfaces, smooth curves and small fountain stand out starkly. But how was this one-of-a-kind, monumental installation created? Who controls the lights and colors? For all those curious to know how the exhibit works, the Guggenheim has just released a video that takes you behind the scenes, showing the structure built inside the rotunda, the scrim at the top which allows daylight to filter through, the colored LED lights, and the control room.

There are additional, smaller light installations inside the museum that play on our perception of space, but none are quite as impressive as Aten Reign, which certainly feels like the culmination of Turrell’s work. The atmosphere of awe and contemplation that Turrell has created inside the Guggenheim feels like his permanent installation, Meeting, in MoMA PS1, but on a much larger scale.

Turrell’s exhibition in the Guggenheim is part of a retrospective in collaboration with LACMA in Los Angeles and The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The Guggenheim’s exhibit is open until September 25.

Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz.