Two of the world’s finest installation artists are now on view in Chicago: James Turrell, an American, recently designed a permanent structure at the University of Illinois, and French artist Daniel Buren has created a site-specific installation, Crossing Through the Colors, for the Arts Club. Buren began doing paintings of his trademark stripes–8.7 centimeters wide, inspired by a piece of awning fabric–in the 60s. By the mid-80s he was creating installations, including striped columns at the Palais Royale in Paris that interacted with the courtyard’s baroque architecture in a mildly bizarre, thought-provoking way. A video on view at the Arts Club shows a 1980 Chicago installation in which Buren put his stripes on the doors of Metra trains that ran past a window in an Art Institute gallery.

Though clearly Buren’s installations have a theatrical side, his best works, like Cezanne’s irresolvable images, address the nature of perception. His array of eight-foot-tall Plexiglas panels at the Arts Club has brought its two boxy, somewhat cold galleries to life, creating an explosion of shifting colors and forms as you wander through. Pretty at first, Crossing Through the Colors becomes profound. Some of the panels alternate transparent vertical “stripes” with stripes painted white while others are painted in one of four solid colors. As you walk, different panels are superimposed on one another and the installation’s hues appear to change. The white stripes sometimes articulate space, form, and distance but can vanish into a sea of colors as you move. Buren’s dreamy forest also transforms the views of the outside world through the galleries’ windows. Exaggerating the small shifts in perspective that occur when you’re walking down the street, Buren heightens what it means to move through space. The alterations in colors and shapes also suggest the way objects change in the mind with the flow of thought, creating a metaphor for consciousness itself.

Daniel Buren

WHEN Through 7/21

WHERE Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario

INFO 312-787-3997

Turrell is a light artist best known for paradoxical indoor installations–what appears to be a luminous panel, for instance, might actually be a vast open space. The outdoor piece at UIC is one of his “skyspaces,” which are related to a project he’s been working on for two decades: multiple observatories in Arizona’s Roden Crater, an extinct volcano. Turrell’s UIC Skyspace, open all day and night throughout the year, is an elliptical cylinder with a roof and open on the bottom; an oval opening showing a bit of sky has been cut in the oval roof. Both ovals run diagonal to the grid of nearby streets, setting the space apart from its urban context. Turrell encourages a meditative attention: gazing at the sky, whether blue or gray or filled with moving clouds, through the roof promotes a sense of peace you probably won’t get watching the traffic on Roosevelt Road.

At twilight, Turrell’s light show takes over: a band on the rim of the domed roof gradually changes from blue to purple to red to yellow. (A few of the lights were a bit off on my visits, occasionally flashing to a “wrong” color.) The man-made lights can seem overpowering, covering a much greater area than the sky visible through the roof. But since the shifts occur at a speed just below the threshold of perception, they mirror and offset the sky’s gradual changes, and both areas of light help the viewer adjust to a rhythm different from the city’s. The structure, outfitted with stone benches, is frequently occupied by visitors who eat and chat, but when I was there I saw only one person look upward. Few in our self-absorbed, materialistic culture measure up to what Turrell calls his “ideal viewer, who will treasure this light.” Still, he continues to “make situations that allow anyone to have this relationship.”

James Turrell

WHERE Halsted and Roosevelt

INFO 312-355-2523