The light touches that link Venice Beach to la Serenissima

Venice/Venezia | Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
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The Independent Online

Bringing Sixties and early Seventies light-based minimalism from Venice, California where it was created to Venice, Italy, is a cool and clearly logical move.

Bringing Sixties and early Seventies light-based minimalism from Venice, California where it was created to Venice, Italy, is a cool and clearly logical move.

Created at the ocean edge of LA, the works, from the Panza Collection, all show a yearning to escape the constant traffic and the inability to be alone - to stop the noise, stop the clock and think about being instead of moving. Transposing this art to a city where our perception of light is constantly reinvented by its reflection and exclusion highlights the effect, blocking the constant flow of urban information, freezing time and space into moments of pure and simple perception.

James Turrell's Afrum I, conceived in 1967, is the earliest piece in the exhibition, but the timeline to his later, more directly environmental work is clear. A square of light is projected from the top corner of a darkened room to the point where the walls meet on the opposite side. The effect is to create the perception of a glowing white cube projecting out into the space in front of you. But to accept the illusion requires an act of faith. Doubt what Turrell is showing you by trying to touch and you're left with a mere patch of light. Move into the beam and your own shadow violates the cube, rendering it bland and ordinary.

If Turrell requires you to be an undoubting believer, then Larry Bell's agnosticism demands to know the material method for attaining enlightenment. Untitled (20 Inch Cube) is a tinted Plexiglass cube placed square on top of a transparent plinth. The effect is meant to hang the cube in mid air, asking us almost literally to suspend our disbelief. But Bell leaves the construction of the support mechanisms all too apparent, seeming to say, look, we can pretend that all is not what it seems if we want, but reality is lurking round the corners.

Bruce Nauman's Lighted Performance Box (1969) is a six-and-a-half feet tall aluminium box containing a 1,000-watt spotlight projecting a square of light onto the ceiling of the room. Nauman has, more recently, been quoted as saying that his work "comes out of being frustrated with the human condition". This is a naïve early piece, though, and he clearly hasn't given up on us at this stage. All he asks here is that we examine what we conceal in the process of understanding. It's as simple as that.

Attached to a wall is a large concave plastic disc, with a band of white paint across the centre. Floodlighting on the floor casts reflections behind the disk that create four further circles making a totality of five discs in pattern formation. This is Robert Irwin's Plastic Disc (1968-69). What makes it particularly interesting in this setting is a clear reference to another work in the same building. The patterns the disc forms on the wall strongly echo Magritte's La Voix Des Air from 1931, part of the Guggenheim's permanent collection. In Magritte's painting three silver spheres, indented across their centres, float above a rural landscape. It's as if Irwin, from the other side of the Guggenheim's courtyard, has replied to Magritte's concerns with the self-deceits of the unconscious by foregrounding a more cognitive question about the way we are deceived by our immediate surroundings.

Eric Orr's Edge of Light, a later work from 1988, consists of a gilded panel with a very thin slit at its centre through which shines a bright fluorescent light. The work bears a formal, if abstracted, similarity to a religious icon (a comparison given greater effect by its location in the city of St Mark's Basilica) and its simple, beautiful physical presence holds the viewer still. The light almost appears to be sucked into the centre of the panel - a small event horizon that could steal our gaze if we didn't break away.

The rest of the exhibition consists of drawings for works by Doug Wheeler and Maria Nordman. The artifice behind their art is fascinating and often beautiful in its own right, but only works here in opposition to the fully realised pieces in the rest of the gallery.

'Venice/ Venezia - California Art from the Panza Collection': Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Dorsudoro 701, Venice (0039 041 2405 411), to 7 January 2001

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