How the Guggenheim Installed Aten Reign

3:44 | Published on June 21, 2013 | 3,501 Views

Christopher George, Guggenheim Chief Fabricator, describes the process of installing artist James Turrell's site-specific work Aten Reign (2013) in the Guggenheim rotunda.

For more information, visit James Turrell.

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The Installation Process

So, I’ve been involved with most of the major installations in the rotunda over the last ten years or so, in one form or other. An artist comes to us with an idea, something they want to do, and it’s up to us to come up with the technical solution to fulfill that vision. It falls to me to create some of the custom hardware required for the installation, as well as develop rigging solutions, and to work closely with structural engineers to ensure that the installation is safe.
We’re here in this space for several reasons. One of which is that we’re doing some pretty extensive load testing to ensure that the truss is in fact able to support itself as well as the vertical tension loads that are created by the PVC scrim—and also that the truss is able to support the tiers of truss that are below it.

And I think we’ve come up with some really creative solutions to make it happen in a way that’s both expedient and practical. We were able to assemble the highest two tiers, the highest section of the truss, and have the team from Newmat come out to install the vertical scrim and the top horizontal scrim element—as well as, we’re able to install the horizontal mesh of scrim in between, so that the artist’s team was able to come out and make sure that the end result is achieved. That was kind of exciting, because it’s the one time that we were able to really get a sense of what overall the piece is going to look like. We’re reaching a place where we’re able to fully connect a tier, fabricate the wood elements for the shelf, mount all the custom hardware, and then we’re able to connect it to the tier above and confirm that all the pieces fit.

We have a limited installation time once we’re on site at the museum, so we want to make sure that that process happens as smoothly as possible. The basic plan is to assemble the first section, composed of two tiers and verticals, and then raise that up off the floor and then attach the subsequent sections below it. So we’ll slowly be building it from the bottom as we lift. As we get to some of the lower tiers, that’s when it’s going to be really challenging, given the enormous scale of the piece. The art handling team, they’ll be the ones stretching the horizontal scrims. At night we’re going to have the Newmat team come in—once sections are assembled, they’ll come in to stretch the PVC scrim elements. The lighting team will be checking to make sure that everything is working and making the necessary connections when the time comes for the control system for the lighting.
We’re planning to do some load testing once again on the building itself. We have sets of anchors, which have been installed into the overhead web walls for previous installations. So the structural engineers at Gilsanz Murray Steficek will give us values [and] we’ll go ahead and subject the building to those loads. The intention is to have basically that whole center cone structure be supported by the center skylight above.