Imagine yourself in a completely silent infinite space. Can you? Probably, it’s not that simple. New York Guggenheim Museum now gives you a chance to do that. Doug Wheeler creates the Island of Silence in the center of New York. PSAD Synthetic Desert III is on until April 12. 

It has been 50 years since Doug Wheeler started to work on his project now called PSAD Synthetic Desert III. For a half of a year, it remained a series of drawings created in the late 1960s. These drawings depicted light and space. The artist was inspired by his experience of standing in the vast deserts of Northern Arizona, where he was raised.


The Island of Silence

Today this project turned into sort of installation. What is it exactly? It is a white room inside a museum room that rests on gaskets so as not to absorb any of the sounds coming from the building itself. It is a futuristic desert. The most thrilling thing is probably that the installation is in the heart of one of the noisiest cities in the world – New York City. “The thought of being able to isolate a museum from the sound around it and in it is really a challenge,” – comments the artist.

How Does It Work?

However, technically the room is not completely silent. The sound within the room will be at 10 to 15 decibels at a minimum (a whisper is around 30 decibels), – Wheeler tells Times. So the room is semi- anechoic, but still, that’s enough for a human being to experience an unusual stillness he/her have never experienced before. 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.


The Power Of Reduction

The artist was inspired by John Cage and his contemporaries. 50 years ago artists were experimenting a lot with reduction. They would try to get rid of objects, language, sounds in their works. The purpose of these experiences was to find out how far the art could go and how powerful it could be with a minimum of means. Today we can not but claim it still goes further and further. Wheeler himself is often called a pioneer of the so-called “Light and Space” movement that flourished in Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s.


The Light and Space Movement

Light and Space denotes is the art movement related to op art, minimalism and geometric abstraction originating in Southern California in the 1960s and influenced by John McLaughlin. It was characterized by a focus on perceptual phenomena, such as light, volume and scale, and the use of materials such as glass, neon, fluorescent lights, resin and cast acrylic, often forming installations conditioned by the work’s surroundings.The works ranged from the all-encompassing, mind-bending expanses of Doug Wheeler to sculptures made from materials that seem to change in appearance as the observer moves around them. In 2010, David Zwirner Gallery, New York presented a historic exhibition titled “Primary Atmospheres,” a term coined by art critic Dave Hickey to describe the contributions of Southern California artists to the Light & Space movement.

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