David Zwirner is pleased to present Doug Wheeler: Encasements, the artist’s third solo exhibition with the gallery, on view at 537 West 20th Street in New York. This exhibition represents the most comprehensive presentation to date of this important body of work, and will comprise five “encasements,” including a rarely seen “center light” work. Presented here in an open configuration, viewers will have the unprecedented opportunity to consider these singular works in relation to one another and to compare the distinct luminous atmospheric effects and subtle tonal variations that characterize each of them. Previously, no more than two encasements have been shown together, as in exhibitions at Fort Worth Art Center Museum, Texas (1969), Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (1969), and Tate Gallery, London (1970), and accordingly this exhibition aims to underscore their ongoing significance.
A pioneering figure in what is often referred to as the Light and Space movement in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s, Wheeler is noted for his innovative constructions and installations that manipulate the perception and experience of space, volume, and light. First conceived between 1967 and 1969, the artist’s “light encasements” evolved out of his longstanding experimentations with fabricated acrylic and neon, and consist of large panels of vacuum-formed plastic with neon lighting embedded along their inside edges. Installed in a white room with all architectural detail and ambient light eliminated, the light paintings appear to dematerialize, immersing viewers in a luminous space where light seems to have almost particulate mass.
Wheeler created only twenty encasements of this type in addition to two variant center light encasements, one of which can be found in the collection of the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California, and the other of which will be shown publicly for the first time in this exhibition. In the latter works, the neon light emanates from the center of the panel, rather than its edges, creating a more condensed luminosity. Unbounded by any kind of frame, the light appears to dematerialize from its source and hover within the space, thus generating a distinctive physiological experience. By shifting the work’s construction in this way, Wheeler provides an effective counterpoint to his own practice and deepens our perceptual experience.
When they were first realized, these works marked a significant transitional moment in the artist’s practice, completing his move from creating discrete objects to conceptualizing the immersive environments for which he has become known. As in his overall body of work, Wheeler’s encasements challenge the idea of the work of art as a tangible aesthetic object by providing the viewer with a total sensorial experience. Of Wheeler’s works, John Coplans, curator of the artist’s 1968 solo exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum, noted, “they clearly reveal a highly mature esthetic and demonstrate that he is a satellite of no other artist…[Wheeler’s] primary aim as [an artist] is to reshape or change the spectator’s perception of the seen world. In short, [his] medium is not light or new materials or technology, but perception.”1
1John Coplans, Doug Wheeler. Exh. bro. (Pasadena: Pasadena Art Museum, 1968), n.p.