Pierre Huyghe’s Smoky, Psychedelic Light Show Mesmerizes at Frieze

The artist presents a glowing installation of light and sound, hidden inside a pitch black room at Marian Goodman. 

Pierre Huyghe, L’Expédition Scintillante, Act 2 (light show), 2002 Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC) Photo by Marcus J. Leith, courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery.

Forget the white cube. At Frieze New York, Marian Goodman Gallery is showing work in a black box. The gallery has dedicated almost the entirety of its solo presentation of French artist Pierre Huyghe to a single work: a glowing installation of smoke, light, and sound hidden inside a pitch-black room.

The piece, titled L’Expédition Scintillante, Act 2 (light show) is from 2002 and is the last in an otherwise sold-out edition, gallery senior director Rose Lord told artnet News at the fair’s opening. The gallery always looks to showcase a single artist at Frieze, and Lord said the time was right to highlight the six-minute immersive piece.

In the darkened space, cordoned off from the rest of the bright white tent by a black curtain, the work appears to hover in the void, as covered light plays off curling plumes of smoke. The dulcet tones of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies 3 and 4, an 1888 composition orchestrated by Claude Debussy, serve as an ambient soundtrack for the piece. The effect is mesmerizing.

Pierre Huyghe, <em>A Journey that Wasn't</em> (2008). Photo courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery.

Pierre Huyghe, A Journey that Wasn’t (2008). Photo courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery.

“It hasn’t been shown in New York since his Hugo Boss Prize show in 2003,” Lord said. “He originally made it for an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Bregenz, where there are three floors. Each floor was like an act from a musical on ice. This was the second floor, and kind of represents the psychological idea of a journey.”

Specifically, Huyghe was thinking of a drug trip—the light show is meant to replicate the hallucinogenic effects of psychadelic drugs.

The piece was also inspired by the artist’s desire to travel to Antarctica, which he eventually did in 2005. With the temperature unexpectedly hitting the upper 80s at Frieze on Wednesday, the darkened booth didn’t quite capture the frigid feel of the polar region. But it did include a color photograph, A Journey that Wasn’t (2008), documenting Huyghe’s trip to the tundra, with penguins in front of a sea of icebergs.

Inside the room, fair-goers were walking tentatively, but there are no hidden benches or obstacles to trip over in the dark. “We guide everyone in,” Lord said. “We’re looking out for people!”

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