Doing the Hologram Dance at Hiram Butler Gallery

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The normally well-lit Hiram Butler Gallery has gone dark for its current show. It's a necessity to actually see the work -- holograms by the famed light artist James Turrell.

Turrell is best known of late for his skyspaces -- meditative areas both indoor and out that encourage you to sit while they play with your perception of light. These spaces are minimal works that require little on your part, but are still wholly immersive. The latest example can even be found in Houston -- "Twilight Epiphany" on Rice University's campus, open since June.

This major installation has helped in no small part to create buzz for the new Turrell show at Hiram Butler that the gallery even extended its run by several weeks. Like the famous skyspaces, these works also play with perceptions of light, but they aren't such a passive experience. Rather, these six holograms demand interaction -- a call and response that will have patrons unconsciously doing the "hologram dance," as the gallery's taken to calling it -- a silly shuffle from side to side that enables you to experience the glowing pieces three-dimensionally. And you'll happily do it like a child in an amusement park fun house.

The six holograms on view are unnamed, though can be distinguished by the distinct color and shape of their subject -- light itself. A thin blue and green sphere, an orange beam, a blue ring and a slanted blue oval, all glowing against a stark black background, comprise the four long transmission holograms hanging across from each other in the main space, which reflect the light using mirrors placed behind the hologram. As you move from side to side and back again, the light changes color and shape, coming out at you without the aid of cheesy 3D glasses (thanks to the mirrors, though, you're also trying to avoid your own reflection). They're big works -- the orange one is the largest hologram in the world, at 73"x39" -- that need some distance to take in.

Though they don't rival them in size, the exhibition's two smaller holograms are the most remarkable on view. They're smaller than an iMac and feature crisper and bolder holograms, thanks to the use of white halogen lights. The bluish-green circle in the last hologram is so sharp and real looking, you can't help but try to grasp it with your hand, only to go through it like some geometric ghost.

This trippy show is a significant one for the gallery for firsts -- it's the first time Turrell's holograms have been shown in Texas -- and timing -- it precedes a major retrospective of his work that's being simultaneously mounted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this coming spring. It also adds to the city's curious connection with the artist, who designed the skyspaces in the Life Oak Friends Meetinghouse and, now, Rice, as well as the MFAH's blue underground tunnel, "The Light Inside." But even for a city that already has its fair share of Turrell, experience this while you still can.

"James Turrell: Holograms" at Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom St., runs now through September 22. For more information, call 713-863-7097 or visit the gallery's Web site.

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