Doug Wheeler ‘Synthetic Desert’ at Guggenheim – 46 years in the making

Doug Wheeler - PSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Photo David Heald
Doug WheelerPSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo: David Heald/guggenheim.org

Backstory

Over 40 years ago, a leading Light and Space artist called Doug Wheeler imagined an art project that resembled the tranquility you would experience if you travelled to an expansive desert such as the one in Arizona. For a long time, the idea only existed on paper due to the amount of resources it required to get going.

The Guggenheim helped Wheeler to realize his project

Luckily, a while back, the Guggenheim Museum in New York decided to take up the project and realize the Doug’s dream.

The chamber that creates an impression of infinite space

The new project is called PSAD Synthetic Desert III and already open to the public. The installation created a chamber that is semi-anechoic, it minimizes noise and creates an impression of infinite space. On visiting the installation, you are led through a number of small chambers, each with its own doors that must be unlocked by a staff member to keep away any sound.

Details of the installation

On getting to the chamber, you will notice several rows of foam cones that are lined at the back walls and the floor. They are made of industrial polymer. Each cone looks very dazzling and creatively made. They are created to absorb any sonic distraction and increase the visual feel of infinity. Above them is a carefully placed platform that seems like it is floating in the air.

How does the chamber make you feel?

Entering the chamber feels like entering a vault. Each of the chambers feels dense and still. The final chamber feels warm and evokes the feel of a morning before it hits the dawn with a mimic of the morning on the wall of the chamber as well as the ceiling. There is no visible border between the part on the ceiling and that one on the wall. There is also no reference point for a distance.

The concept that Doug Wheeler used for this work

Wheeler had produced several large abstract paintings in white color in the 1960s. Each of the paintings explores optical experience. He then came up with various techniques to showcase light and space. The techniques involved combining neon light, lacquer and acrylic sheets. He then created painting-like objects most of which he called lighting encasements. When the encasements are installed in white rooms, they emit some light that makes them look and feel as if they are fused with the wall. This creates a feeling of infinity. The PSAD Synthetic Desert III uses the same concept but has blue to purple colors.

Photos of ‘PSAD Synthetic Desert III’

Doug Wheeler - PSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1
Doug WheelerPSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo: David Heald/guggenheim.org

Doug Wheeler - PSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2
Doug WheelerPSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo: David Heald/guggenheim.org

Doug Wheeler in the installation David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Doug Wheeler in the installation
Photo: David Heald/guggenheim.org

Doug Wheeler portrait by Tony Cenicola:The New York Times
Doug Wheeler portrait
Photo: Tony Cenicola/nytimes.com

Doug Wheeler - PSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Photo Tony Cenicola:The New York Times
Doug WheelerPSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo: Tony Cenicola/nytimes.com

Doug Wheeler - PSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Photo Brian Oslinker
Doug WheelerPSAD Synthetic Desert III (detail), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo: Brian Oslinker/flickr.com

Sketches

Study for Doug Wheeler PSAD Synthetic Desert III, 1971
Study for Doug WheelerPSAD Synthetic Desert III, 1971

Study for Doug Wheeler PSAD Synthetic Desert III, 1971, detail
Study for Doug WheelerPSAD Synthetic Desert III (detail), 1971

All images by Doug Wheeler/davidzwirner.com unless otherwise noted.

Video: Interview with Doug Wheeler

4min 16sec

A spotlight featuring Doug Wheeler’s exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum.

Related works

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