Monday, August 24, 2009

Last Night I Dreamt About James Turrell

I had this dream last night. A friend of mine (let's call him "C") were on the run from some insistent secret agent types in Philadelphia. We escape by disappearing into the Philly subway system (I have no idea if Philadelphia has a subway). After a number of close calls, we manage to shake them lose. We get help from some other secret agent types, who help us boost a car (a Porsche). I wondered if those agents are actually on our side or are agent provacateurs.

We drive out to the edge of town into some low hills, and we take a dirt road that leads us to a wide flat expanse. Around us are brand new buildings, townhome-style apartments, built of red brick, concrete, and granite. Looking out over the vast field in front of us, I can see the campus of Rice University.

"I know where we are," I tell C. "This is where the new construction for Rice is happening. I think these are new married student apartments or something." I tell him that in order to escape, we should drive across the field to the main campus.

But the drive is blocked by several enormous construction machines. These things seem to be engaged in breaking up huge slabs of granite and concrete. They work so rapidly that there is no safe way to drive past them. We call and gesture for them to let us pass, but they ignore us.

"Those guys are assholes! Let's hoof it."

We have no qualms about abandoning the car (it was stolen anyway). We walk around the machines carefully along the south end of the field, where a man is busy planting bushes. The bushes are being planted in an interesting pattern. I ask him if he is part of this new construction going on.

"Well, sort of," he replies. "The University hired me to create an art piece in the field to visually connect it to the rest of the campus."

"That's cool, but I have to tell you, your co-workers over there," pointing to the machines, "are grada-A assholes."

He smiles a crooked smile of acknowledgement, puts out his hand, and introduces himself as James. He looks to be in his 40s or 50s, has a full head of somewhat curly hair, mostly grey, and a moustache. He is wearing jeans and a blue work-shirt.

"I'm going to take a break--you want some coffee?"

We agree, and he walks over to the completed apartments. He and his family are the only tenants--they are living there while he works on his piece. He mentions having a kid, but we only meet his wife. We make small chit-chat and he tells us a lot about the piece. Then he announces he has to walk over to the main campus where he has a studio set up.

We start to walk when a light-bulb goes off in my head. "Are you James Turrell?" He had never told us his last name.

"That's me."

C looks confused, and I tell him that James Turrell is a well-known artist. I start to mention the tunnel at the MFAH, but C is not the type of guy who goes to museums, so I leave it at that.

Turrell has a studio in the art department at Rice, where he is working with a bunch of students. You can see models and drawings of different ideas for the space. He seems to have both the respect and the casual friendship of the students, and he is generous with his time in talking to C and me. He is genuinely likable.

Then I woke up.

I have no idea what James Turrell looks like. He is, however, creating a piece for the space between the the Shepherd School, the Baker Institute, and McNair. That's great because that open space has long been a weirdly dead area. No one hangs out there.

Hilariously, the press release proclaims "Multimillion-dollar gift will bring Turrell masterpiece to Rice University." Richard Connelly of the Houston Press has some fun with that. I'll be happy if Turrell in real life turns out to be as cool as Turrell in my dream.

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