Dezeen Magazine

PSAD Synthetic Desert III by Doug Wheeler

Doug Wheeler installs spiky-floored Synthetic Desert at New York's Guggenheim Museum

American artist Doug Wheeler has transformed a gallery at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York into an all-white room designed to evoke the sensation of vast infinite space.

PSAD Synthetic Desert III was unveiled yesterday at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum in Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Based on drawings Wheeler created in the 1960s, the installation comprises an entirely white space. Sharp pyramids cover the floor, and walls gently curve at the corners and edges.

A platform among the spikes allows visitors to move into the room, surrounding themselves with the environment and filling their fields of vision.

PSAD Synthetic Desert III by Doug Wheeler

Lighting beneath the platform, and between the floor and walls, emits a soft glow and produces subtle gradients across the surfaces. The spikes help to dampen the sound.

"Doug Wheeler has altered the structure and configuration of a museum gallery in order to control optical and acoustic experience," said curators Jeffrey Weiss, Francesca Esmay and Melanie Taylor.

"He has transformed the room into a hermetic realm, a 'semi-anechoic chamber' designed to minimise noise and induce a sensate impression of infinite space."

The artist wanted the installation to replicate the feeling he experienced standing in the vast desert of Arizona, where he grew up.

However, the white room is not intended to represent the landscape and is purely abstract.

PSAD Synthetic Desert III by Doug Wheeler
The PSAD Synthetic Desert III installation is based on drawings Wheeler created in the late 1960s

Wheeler's work during the 1960s moved from large white abstract paintings, to objects called "light encasements" that caused the planar surface of each work to appear fused with the wall it was installed on.

He abandoned this at the end of the decade to create immersive environments from architectural volume, light, and sound, such as the Synthetic Desert series.

"The Guggenheim's production of Synthetic Desert, based on early drawings and completed in close collaboration with the artist, is the first realisation of this work," said the curators.

PSAD Synthetic Desert III by Doug Wheeler
The grid of pyramids that covers the floor helps to dampen the sound in the space

Similar installations have included a piece at Venice's Palazzo Grassi, where he replaced two sides of the 18th-century building's atrium with a white surface thatat appeared to have no boundaries.

PSAD Synthetic Desert III is on show at the Guggenheim Museum until 2 August 2017.

Photography is by David Heald. Drawings are courtesy of the artist.