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The space between things has always been a fascination of 76-year-old light artist Doug Wheeler. From the time that he was a young kid in Arizona, growing up traveling with a father who attended to medical emergencies by plane, Wheeler has explored and exposed his perception of light and space. Wheeler is now celebrating his third solo show at David Zwirner in New York, “Encasements.” This time, and for the first time, Wheeler is giving up not one, not his previous maximum of two, but five of his prized light encasements—all ranging 7.5 by 7.5 feet—for the viewers to get lost in.
“It’s very exciting,” said Kristine Bell, a senior partner at David Zwirner. “It’s been years in the making. And thinking about it myself, after seeing individual light encasements over the years, one by one, and thinking, ‘that one’s so much different than the other one’ and ‘what if we brought all of them together? Wouldn’t that be exciting? We could show people how complex they are.’ So that was the mission. And Doug finally agreed. The two that were shown as companion works were in Doug’s exhibitions in museums and they happened in the early ‘70s. So nothing from the ‘70s until now has brought these works together in such a complete way,” said Bell.
When walking into the gallery, we were asked to cover our shoes with white smocks, and walk into the main room. Faced with a large view of dimly lit blue, we drew closer. As we approached, it became increasingly more difficult to see the space between ourselves and, say, the gallery wall. Horizons in our peripheral vision blended into something unrecognizable, and all we saw was a variety of faint colors projecting in separate rooms. To fill a special request from Wheeler, the gallery cut a small slit in the ceiling above the room to allow light to flood in, and move to different points of the space depending on the sun’s position.
“Everything comes from natural light—all of his experiences are based in nature. There’s nothing artificial about watching the sun change the tone of the sky,” said Bell. “The expansiveness, limitless nature of the sky and where the sky meets the land—the horizon—and all of the shifts of color, and how light materializes almost like a substance when you’re up there,” she continued. “Bringing the natural light from the skylight above in this very material way is almost like a sculpture in itself when the light pours in and becomes something.”
Moving into the other wing of the gallery, we straddled the line between both rooms, provoking a dizzying spell of seeing both sets of encasements at once. Faint light radiates from the installations, separating the rooms into chunks of dim, respected colors. It’s a light and space movement exercise at the very least; the epitome of a classic Wheeler experience at best.
“Encasements” is arguably the most comprehensive representation of Wheeler’s work to date, and we’re glad to see so much of its milky messages in one place at one time.
“Encasements” is now on view at David Zwirner until March 5.