Friday, February 12, 2016

Doug Wheeler, Encasements at David Zwirner

Light - the main ingredient for sight. Walking into Doug Wheeler’s exhibition at David Zwirner is an intense elliptical and almost hallucinatory play of light that alters our perception of space. The most comprehensive collection of five ‘Encasements’:  a light immersing environment presenting square ‘painting like’ neon light boxes positioned on a white wall with altered curved corners, creating a seemingly boundless space.

The illusion of perception of dematerialized space created by Wheeler left me feeling uncertain about the depth of architectural form. It is experience as art - there was no image or object, just a hint of an expanded physical space one which leaves the viewer completely blind sighted. These ‘Encasements’ are the epitome of the light-and-space movement of the 1960’s and 70’s: they make the immaterial – material. Like the artists affiliated with the group active in Southern California, notably James Turrell and Robert Irwin, Wheeler expands upon the work of ‘experimental psychology’ by showcasing it into a gallery setting. Wheelers works simultaneously challenges the notions of neutrality in the ‘white cube’ gallery space by making ones own consciousness its medium.

In all of the chaos of New York, Wheeler’s ‘Encasements’ serves as an uplifting meditation of seeing: it rewards the viewer’s gaze by transforming looking into a phenomenological physical experience. In fact, I didn’t want to leave.

Doug Wheeler: Encasements, David Zwirner, New York, 2016. 


  1. I like the way you described this show: “as an uplifting meditation of seeing”. Because that’s exactly what I felt at that time, especially compared with many “noisy” art works in Chelsea. Also about the “painting like” neon light boxes, I think it’s interesting. Traditional paintings show their beauty or magic through the reflection of light, which means no light, no painting. But the light-and –space movement seems put the boundaries into a whole new fields. Furthermore, as you said these works directly gave people the physical experience, not only a visual pleasure. I think that’s also a very important and valuable aspect of these works.

  2. For a 225 word essay, this is commendably thorough, situating Wheeler’s work historically, epistemologically, and phenomenologically. I wonder, though, if breadth sacrificed depth in a few of your modes of conversation. As a reader, with lines like, “alters our perception of space,” “perception of dematerialized space,” and “experience as art,” I might like to know about how your own body interacted with the work. These sorts of phenomenological works are unapologetic in creating a subject of the viewer, a perspective from which perceiving/presence happens, and so personalizing the essay may be powerful: and it could be as simple as a single story. Similarly, I wished the essay had found a way to finish on “meditation of seeing,” as that is a great line and not wanting to leave is more banal sentiment.