The venerable Cardinal Hotel in Palo Alto, a historic art deco landmark dating from 1924, has been refurbished, with its ground floor housing Osteria Ristorante and Bistro Maxine. It now also boasts a blue-chip New York gallery that's bringing museum-quality art shows to the downtown area, including its inaugural exhibition by James Turrell.
Pace Gallery, founded in 1960, represents an impressive roster of notable artists, including such luminaries as Chuck Close, Agnes Martin and David Hockney. The gallery tested the waters of the Peninsula with three exhibitions in a pop-up space in Menlo Park. The latest show, consisting of digital installations by the Japanese artist cooperative TeamLab, has been a roaring success.
"Attendance at the TeamLab show is around 45,000 visitors to date and we don't close until July 1," Pace Palo Alto's director Elizabeth Sullivan said.
She went on to explain that, after the success of the pop-up exhibitions, the idea for a permanent exhibition space "just happened organically."
"The community has embraced us," she said. "There is so much going on here now with the reopening of SFMOMA and the Minnesota Street Project. We are just happy to be a part of it."
For its inaugural Palo Alto exhibition, Pace is presenting work by one of its most highly regarded artists, James Turrell. Turrell, 73, is best known for his "Roden Crater," an extinct volcano in northern Arizona that he has been transforming into a celestial observatory for the past 30 years. Turrell's medium is light -- how we perceive it and how it affects our sense of reality.
In a recent interview he explained his unique approach.
"My work has no object, no image and no focus," he said. "With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? You are looking at you looking. What is important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought."
Installed in the first room of the Pace Palo Alto gallery is "Pelee," a site-specific piece that is part of his "Wide Glass" installation series. A wall of LED light tiles, controlled by a computer program, change slowly and hypnotically as colors morph, blend and create new hues. Sullivan called it a "meditative piece that alters perception." Like many of Turrell's installations, light appears to have a physical presence, to possess mass and take up space in the form of a large rectangle. Unlike the passive experience of looking at a painting hung on a wall, the viewer becomes a part of the installation, as the eye, body and mind are impacted almost like a spiritual awakening. Turrell, who was raised in a strict Quaker home, said that he is trying to "bring the cosmos closer to the place (people) occupy."
The second room contains nine of the artist's "Reflective Holograms." Holograms are a recording of light waves on a thin layer of transparent gelatin emulsion. They appear to have depth from every vantage point and, in Turrell's hands, they become abstractions of light and color.
Sullivan looked at a number of possible locations for the new gallery but decided that the combination of the Cardinal Hotel's historic exterior and the ability to renovate the 3,200-square-foot interior space was too good to pass up.
"This location gets a lot of foot traffic and we are so close to Stanford University," she said. The gallery is hoping to work closely with the university in the future.
In order to blend the old with the new, the decision was made to retain the original facade and to keep, as much as possible, design features like stained glass and lighting fixtures. Visitors enter the reception-area lobby, which is open and airy, thanks to a wall of windows and a high ceiling. This area will remain unchanged, while the rest of the space will be configured to suit each exhibition. In the rear of the space, the plan is to have a library that will contain around 1,000 art books, Sullivan said.
In terms of the installation schedule, Sullivan plans to mount around four or five shows per year. There is no fixed schedule as oif yet, but all of the artists will be from the Pace Gallery stable.
"Unlike the Menlo Park venue, this will be a proper gallery space with all artwork for sale," Sullivan said.
Only time will tell if local collectors respond by opening their wallets. Based on the investment made in the physical space and moving staff members to the West Coast, Pace is planning on staying for the long haul.
Sullivan is optimistic. "There is an audience here; people are already interested in art and I am sure they will be happy with what we are doing," she said.
What: Pace Palo Alto
Where: 229 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
When: The James Turrell exhibition will be on view from April 28 to July 30, Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m
Info: Go to Pace Gallery.