Put Neon, Bright Light
JAMES TURRELL, “Milk Run”

HIRSHHORN MUSEUM & SCULPTURE GARDEN
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

What we really want is nice places to hang out—pool halls, swimming pools, pools of light in a museum. I liked it so much I puddled; what glows captivates. Who sleeps, eats. It splashes arbitrarily on its surroundings.

Sculpture nowadays is some abandoned factory’s pre-fabricated totems. Lime, lemon, and cherry advertisements for an obelisk, with all the foretold inscrutability of the quincunx (the five-sided die), etc. We want dark rooms in which to sit interminably, without the Minotaur (minatory) sunlight goading us around with its shadow patterns on the sidewalk.

When we walk into an air-conditioned or heated museum, with its flat marble or unpolished concrete floors, we want a sofa we adore and some pretty bodies. We’ve had enough quizzing and empty-headedness. Plus it has air-conditioning; it is lush life to sit as if in a war bunker in air-conditioned basements with permanent light sources, resting our eyes and souls in dim light, with a vague sense of metaphysical experience. And so we sit in rooms of artificial light.

Man lurks in shadow. Daguerre writes to Niépce to talk about their love of sunlight, but it is a holiday and the post is closed. Dante sits on a boulder in Purgatory, betrayed by his body’s shadow (where Virgil granted a tour). Light falls and breaks an object in half. We put neon in museums to have the humble glow and hum of hunger fever chills, this good life, life of light. Exiting the mountain, which is God our rock, because it basked in light and made our heads ache.

And then there is darkness—basement hallways, cliffside tunnels, caves, the flipped switch. The garden seat is a seat of shadow, latticed light that curbs our hungers. Sunburn gives us chills. Solar flares distort the radio signal. Daylight falls and turns earth dark, while propping up the moon.

And just as parking lot sodium-halide orange light is a constant that betrays truth in life, art can make a room and name it “Milk Run” for us to sit in, wait for eyes to adjust, and be confused by the patterns of light (and sit on the bench, or explore the unsurveilled corners and crooks where the pole-bulbs hide). The colors are parallel and cleave to each side.



700 Independence Ave. SW // Washington, D.C.

Contributor

Jeff Sanford

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