The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, often referred to as The Guggenheim, is an art museum located at 1071 Fifth Avenue on the corner of East 89th Street in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.
Tucked away on the Guggenheim’s seventh floor, in a tiny room accessible only to visitors who pass through a red stanchion and three heavy doors bearing industrial locks, lies one of the museum’s most mind-bending shows in recent memory.
It’s not imposing or loud like some of the big, buzzy exhibitions that have occupied the museum’s spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright-designed rotunda in the past. Doug Wheeler’s “PSAD Synthetic Desert III,” up through August 2nd, is a different kind of sensory experience: one decidedly quieter and altogether more transportive.
For PSAD Synthetic Desert III (1971), Doug Wheeler has altered the structure and configuration of a museum gallery in order to control optical and acoustic experience. He has transformed the room into a hermetic realm, a “semi-anechoic chamber” designed to minimize noise and induce a sensate impression of infinite space. Wheeler likens this sensation of light and sound to the perception of vast space in the deserts of northern Arizona. While Synthetic Desert is deeply grounded in the artist’s experience of the natural world, the work does not describe the landscape. Its form is strictly abstract.
Because Synthetic Desert is best experienced with as few extraneous sounds and distractions as possible, each visitation group is limited to five people. Timed tickets are required. Reserve tickets in advance. Walk-in tickets are available for select times.
Wheeler’s work is often associated with West Coast art after 1960, particularly a tendency referred to as Light and Space. The development of Light and Space coincides with Minimalism and shares with it a spare visual language of geometric form. During the early 1960s, Wheeler produced large white abstract paintings that explore pure optical experience. In the middle of the decade, he developed various techniques combining acrylic sheets, lacquer, and neon light, and used these methods in the fabrication of painting-like objects, including a series called “light encasements.” When installed in modified all-white rooms, the encasements emit a hazy luminosity that causes the planar surface of each work to appear fused with the wall. Wheeler abandoned object making altogether in the late 1960s to create immersive environments such as Synthetic Desert, using architectural volume, light, and sound as his primary mediums. The Guggenheim’s production of Synthetic Desert, based on early drawings and completed in close collaboration with the artist, is the first realization of this work.
The Guggenheim is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year. The museum was established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939 as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, under the guidance of its first director, the artist Hilla von Rebay. It adopted its current name after the death of its founder, Solomon R. Guggenheim, in 1952.
This presentation of PSAD Synthetic Desert III is organized by Jeffrey Weiss, Senior Curator, and Francesca Esmay, Conservator, Panza Collection, with Melanie Taylor, Director, Exhibition Design. The Guggenheim is also working closely with Raj Patel and Joseph Digerness from Arup, a design firm that specializes in the acoustic properties of built space.