Doug Wheeler Installs Immersive Synthetic Desert at New York’s Guggenheim Museum

For the recently unveiled exhibition “PSAD Synthetic Desert III,” American artist Doug Wheeler has transformed a gallery within New York’s Solomon R Guggenheim Museum into an immersive, entirely white environment—occupied on all sides by 400 pointed pyramidal spikes—that evokes an illusory experience of vast infinite space shrouded in absolute silence. The artist sought to replicate the experience of standing amidst the vast Arizona deserts, where he grew up.

Installation view: Doug Wheeler: PSAD Synthetic Desert III, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, March 24-August 2, 2017 Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

“PSAD Synthetic Desert III” is based on a series of Wheeler’s drawings from 1960s. The installation was designed to manipulate noise, light, and space in a “semi-anechoic chamber” that suppresses all but the lowest levels of ambient sound. It was created in collaboration with the engineering firm Arup, who sourced Basotect, a flexible, open-cell melamine foam with high sound absorption properties.

Doug Wheeler PSAD Synthetic Desert III, 1968 (detail) Ink on paper, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Panza Collection, Gift, 1991 © Doug Wheeler

A platform permits five visitors at a time to enter the exhibit, where their fields of vision are filled by the 400 pyramids and 600 wedges of Basotect covering the chamber’s floor, walls, and ceiling, as well as a blank wall boasting curved edges and a hazy glow.

“PSAD Synthetic Desert III” will be on view through August 2 at the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed museum in Manhattan.

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