The Benton is back: Featuring James Turrell Exhibit


Photo | Isha Raheja

For years, the Benton Museum and James Turrell’s “Dividing the Light” exhibit have been staples in the Claremont community. Whether it be the Art Start program for CUSD elementary schoolers, a relaxing sanctuary for families to spend their weekends, or an outlet of inspiration for college students, the Benton museum has provided much enrichment for the citizens of Claremont. After a long hiatus due to COVID-19 and the building’s renovation, both the museum and Turrell’s exhibit return with new splendor. Turrell is an internationally recognized Pomona College graduate known for his art exhibitions; avant-garde combinations of architecture and light. His famous “Dividing the Light” exhibit at the Benton is renowned for its zero cost admission and one-of-a-kind magnificence.
The Benton is reopening with a plethora of exhibits previously not featured. Exhibits for politically active students include “Cross Border Photography”, artwork from Sadie Barnette, the daughter of famous Black Panther Rodney Barnette, and art from the Yemeni-Bosnian-US artist Alia Ali. For the grounded and contemplative student there is Alison Saar’s exhibit where one can explore elemental and spiritual art. For the history buff there is the “Art, Object, Specimen” exhibit which explores at what point a historic object becomes art. The meditative student may find interest in Turrell’s “Dividing the Light” exhibit. It is the perfect place to relax and watch the magnificent colors akin to Claremont’s own sunsets. There is an exhibit to fit the niche interests of every CHS student at the reopened Benton museum of art.
So, who is James Turrell and what exactly is his “Dividing the Light” exhibit? For starters, he is a Los Angeles native who attended local Pomona College, graduating in 1961 with a BA in Psychology. What he learned about human consciousness in his courses impacts every aspect of his work.
“Turrell often cites the Parable of Plato’s Cave to introduce the notion that we are living in a reality of our own creation, subject to our human sensory limitations as well as contextual and cultural norms,” as stated on Turrell’s official website. “This is evident in Turrell’s over eighty Skyspaces, chambers with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky. The simple act of witnessing the sky from within a Turrell Skyspace, notably at dawn and dusk, reveals how we internally create the colors we see and thus, our perceived reality.”
Color theory is very evident in “Dividing the Light.” This Claremont gem features sleek stone benches that encompass a shallow pool, all canopied under light that frames the sky above. The colors change hue ever so often, gently circling through all the colors of the rainbow. Salim Moore, Assistant Curator of Collections at the Benton Museum of Art, explains this art piece as experienced color-theory.
“It’s very simple; LED’s project intense colors onto the ceiling that juxtaposes the natural color of the sky in relation to the light show,” Moore said. “That is color-theory 101.”
Moore expresses that the structure of the sky space is a unique feature of Turrell’s art.
“‘Dividing the Light’ is a great way of experiencing something that only Los Angelenos know, which is our sunsets,” Moore said. “It’s the smog and the quality of the light that makes LA have these very vivid, colorful sunsets. James Turrell has really thought about the color and the uniqueness of the sunsets we have here, and his Skyspace is a way of meditating on it.”
Like all the curated pieces at the Benton, Turrell’s exhibit is enjoyable to everyone. Whether you wish for quiet contemplation or picturesque Instagram photos, Turrell’s exhibition is the place to be. Moore best describes it as “a small community oasis, or a watering hole, a crossroads, because you can just come and enjoy it.” Not only does Moore’s quote encapsulate the beauty of Turrell’s exhibit and its effect on the community, but also describes the Benton museum as a whole.