Houghton set to be the summer art sensation

Houghton Hall LightScape. Picture Hugo Glendinning ANL-150806-120240001
Houghton Hall LightScape. Picture Hugo Glendinning ANL-150806-120240001
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Sunday saw the official opening of the much-anticipated LightScape exhibition at Houghton Hall, featuring the work of artist James Turrell

This most traditional of settings is playing host to abstract contemporary art using the most technological of medium. Pure light. Screens flicker and beam a variety of light sources with the piece de resistance being an illumination of the house itself. A glowing tribute to the Palladian Georgian beauty of Walpole’s hall.

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Some of the works have been in situ for many years, as Lord David Cholmondeley, who lives at the hall with wife Rose and their two young children (not to forget the ubiquitous Benjy the whippet), has long been an admirer of the artist.

Skyscape and St Elmo’s Breath in the Water Tower are old friends. But of the new works, the Magnetron, housed in the stables, is particular fun. A tribute to the flickering TVs glimpsed through windows, it shows an unseen cartoon, only the shadows of light stirring calming memories (or otherwise) of home.

St Elmo’s Breath is worth the traipse to the Water Tower. An unnerving and intense experience where the viewer enters the room in complete darkness and slowly becomes dimly aware of what is within.

A bus load of the country’s leading art critics arrived at Houghton on Thursday afternoon (what is the collective noun for art critics – an impression?) and the reviews seem to be universally complimentary.

Many said it was going to be the highlight of the artistic season. And all here on West Norfolk’s doorstep.

Turrell is an internationally-acclaimed light and space artist whose work can be found worldwide. Over more than four decades he has created striking works that play with perception and the effect of light within a created space. His fascination with light is related to his personal, inward search for mankind’s place in the universe.

Influenced by his Quaker upbringing, his art prompts self-awareness through silent contemplation, patience and meditation.

He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he presides over a monumental land art project at Roden Crater, an extinct volcano the artist has been transforming into a naked-eye celestial observatory for the past 33 years.

Turrell has also achieved notoriety for holding an exhibition in Australia where visitors were invited to attend the viewing naked. There are no plans to repeat this at Houghton!

Houghton Hall are holding a competition for the best Instagram picture of the gardens. just gag it #houghtonhallgarden and the winner will receive a signed copy of Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English House by Lord Cholmondeley and a family season ticket for next year.

LightScape: James Turrell at Houghton is on until October 24. The hall is open Wednesday to Sunday 11.30am-8.30pm. The illumination of the house is only shown on Fridays and Saturdays. A ticket to see the grounds, the Turrell exhibition and the State Rooms and the illumination is £19.50 for an adult, and £15 for a student or children aged five to 16. Without the illumination, the cost is £14 for an adult and £10 cons. Tickets can be booked at www.houghton.hall.com or the Theatre Royal, Norwich, box office on 01603 598650.