Douglas Wheeler’s Infinity Rooms: Unrealized Media Art History – tbc.
Venue:Stockholm School of Economics, Soros Auditorium
Six large-scale environmental installations by Douglas Wheeler were among the landmark works of minimal and post-minimal art in the collection of Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo that Guggenheim Museum acquired in 1991. A key figure in the California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Wheeler remains relatively less well known today than his contemporaries like James Turrell and Robert Irwin, in part because his most ambitious works have proven to be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, for traditional art institutions to realize. PSAD Synthetic Desert III (1971), for instance, requires a fully soundproof anechoic chamber illuminated by neon lights embedded in the floor. When viewers enter the environment they are not confronted by a traditional object but fully immersed in a profound sensory experience—total silence and spatial disorientation—that can only be possible when the work is installed to Wheeler’s exacting specifications. Only four of Wheeler’s similarly immersive “infinity environments” have ever been installed in the United States, and three examples in the Guggenheim’s collection exist today as architectural diagrams and installation instructions. When Wheeler conceived PSAD Synthetic Desert III, anechoic chambers were high tech scientific instruments, not feasible components of a museum exhibition. He had little expectation that the work he envisioned would ever be presented within the structure of an art institution, and previous attempts to realize similar works have often resulted in comprises that the artist has contested. My paper will examine contemporary efforts by the Guggenheim and other arts institutions to renew Wheeler’s work while raising broader questions about the responsibility of institutions and the status of the “visionary” and the “unrealizable” within the field of new media art.