James Turrell’s “Akhob”

To see the light.

It is hard to know what to expect when ascending the stairs through the egg-shaped entrance, feet wrapped in airy cotton surgical slippers, to the white chamber. Through a curved opening is another blank room, this one larger, and beyond it, only the faint edge of the floor to identify space from the seemingly endless white abyss. That is, until the colours start to show.

It begins soft, pale, a creamy orange, but grows in intensity, blossoming into bright pink, and then, as it builds, a heated, deep red. Over time, the colour fades, replaced by a light blue, until it, too, morphs into powerful hues, as if taking over brain, eyes, breath. It is a plunge into a pool of light, a remarkable experience at once penetratingly overwhelming and puzzlingly serene. As the colours construct and fall with varying levels of strength, the edges of the room’s walls and floor become fuzzy, almost invisible. When immersed in Akhob, this light installation by acclaimed artist James Turrell, discerning true colour from trick of the eye is no simple feat. Each experience is acutely personal, blurring the lines between reality and perception. When standing in the main room, basking in the transcendent warmth, a turn to face the entrance is a revelation: the oval door, white when you left it, is now a searing orange. Or so it would seem. The space is, in fact, still white, but as the colours in the installation room change, so do our perceptions of what lies in front, and behind.

Akhob is located on the fourth floor of the striking and expansive Louis Vuitton boutique at The Shops at Crystals in Las Vegas. Only small groups are allowed to visit at a time, and booking is required in advance. It is worth the plan ahead, though; this is an experience unique to its time and place, a sensation exploration and a divine meditation. Though sitting in the heart of throbbing Vegas chaos, Akhob feels worlds away; and yet, it unreservedly belongs there, an inexplicable match.

Louis Vuitton is a long-time supporter and commissioner of original art, and in many ways, it is an obvious partnership. “Art and luxury are a natural marriage since they both best illustrate the art of being unique, thanks to innovation and creativity,” says Anthony Ledru, president and CEO of Louis Vuitton Americas. Akhob is the brand’s third collaboration with Turrell, who was born in Los Angeles in 1943, and is regarded as an important figure of the Light and Space movement that sprung out of Southern California in the mid-1960s. “Akhob is an intimate, sensory experience exploring light and space,” Ledru says. “It is meant to be a personal journey that I encourage individuals to see for themselves.” Seeing is believing, indeed, but perhaps there is something to be said for not always trusting what is in view. So much of art is up for interpretation, a subconscious and subjective reflection of thought and purpose. Maybe the takeaway is not just the visual itself, but the feeling left in its wake.

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October 22, 2015