Must-See Secret in Vegas

James-Turrell-Las-Vegas

Photo from Turrell’s website

If you happen to travel through Las Vegas you really need to see Akhob, an incredible light art installation by the renowned James Turrell. Photographers, designers—anyone who works with light and color—as well as anyone interested in perception, psychology, brain science or spirituality will delight in this space. It is amazing, completely immersive and otherworldly, and it’s free. But you will need a reservation—only six people at a time are permitted into the installation every half hour.

Photography is not permitted once you’ve entered Akhob, so photos in this post are borrowed from the Internet—if they are yours please let me know so I can credit you! Two-dimensional photography does not do justice to this multi-sensory experience that bathes the visitor in gentle yet vibrantly colored light. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

First you enter a very dark reception room, designed to let your eyes calm and adjust. Two attendants dressed in white provide brief instructions such as don’t touch the walls (they stain easily), no food or drink, no photography, and ask you to sign a three-page release of liability form.

From there you walk down a dark corridor to a foyer at the base of a staircase. There is a round portal at the top of the staircase, making it seem like the entrance to a temple. Six chairs along the wall, three at either end, are where you will leave your belongings and remove your shoes, putting disposable shoe covers on your feet.

One at a time, you will be asked to ascend the stairs—there is no handrail—and enter the installation. One attendant goes first, and the second brings up the rear. Each person can begin going up once the last person has stepped over the portal. It’s eerie entering the chamber, hard to see the step into the portal, and hard to know how deep the step over is.

Once inside the portal the floor is flat (though it did feel angled), so walking around is easy. There are three chambers, Turrell calls them “ganzfelds” or “light fields,” each with a circular passage connecting it to the other. At the far end you look into the third chamber: a drop off into what seems to be a void. Of course no one may step beyond the second chamber. There is a sensor in place that, we were told, is hooked up to an alarm, to prevent people from falling.

Most people seem drawn to that second chamber, from which you marvel looking into the third. Subtly changing colors of blue, green, pink, red, orange, purple and yellow envelop you in the illusion of fog, provide you the experience of flying or floating, of peace and stillness, of being in the womb, in heaven or in space. Walls, floors and ceilings disappear and reappear; space and distance bend and blend. It is disorienting and liberating, relaxing and energizing. For me the experience was very much like meditation.

The color comes, apparently, from three places. Inside the round doorways of the first two chambers are circular lines of light that change color, while there is also an unseen light source from the third chamber. They blend together seamlessly to make edges and distinctions disappear.

From that second chamber you can also look back on the first. I would have sworn that the door at the top of the stairs, the one through which we entered, was closed. It was black and flat, locked off. But when I approached it to verify, it was, indeed, still open. I could see the stairway, the chairs and our worldly goods below, right where we had left them.

W Magazine describes Akhobin this way:

“For decades Turrell has created meticulous environments where the interplay of light and space renders basic perception a transcendental experience. Monumentalized as a master of quietude and subtlety, his work is surprisingly at home in Sin City. As a neon playground awash in a sea of nothingness, the extreme juxtaposition of barren beauty and unchecked consumerism affords his destabilizing projects maximum impact on over-stimulated tourists.”

Visitors are requested to maintain silence inside Akhob. The silence and stillness are a powerful aspect of the experience. You will be standing the entire time; I can see that chairs would ruin the visual cleanliness, and staying mobile adds to the full experience.

You’ll find Akhobon the upper level of the Louis Vitton store at Crystals at City Center—very private and secret. To make a reservation, call (702) 730-3150. Address is 3720 Las Vegas Blvd. S. NOTE: Reservations are normally booked six to eight weeks ahead, but they do have occasional openings if you’re lucky. They are open Thursday through Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Children under age 15 are not allowed.

We had seen and enjoyed another Turrell installation, The Way of Color, one of his numerous Skyspaces, at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas a couple of years ago. Akhobwas night and day better. While the Skyspace plays with your perception and is fascinating, Akhobfeels much more transcendental, transporting your mind and spirit to other realms.

If you can’t get in to see Akhob, you can view another Turrell exhibit at Crystals, built into the ceiling of the monorail platform. You can view the rotating light on the platform itself, or from inside the shopping center through the geometric Libeskind oculi that are cut into the walls.

As for me, the next place I want to go is Roden Crater, once it opens, located in the Painted Desert of northern Arizona where I grew up. Turrell is transforming this cinder crater into a light, color and sky-viewing space reminiscent of the ancients but updated with modern technology.