Marian Zazeela, an Artist of Light and Design, Dies at 83

In avant-garde New York, one of the most pilgrimaged sites has been the “Dream House,” a sensory environment that since 1993 has occupied the third story of a walk-up on Church Street in Lower Manhattan.

From the ceiling of that small, carpeted room, theater lights treated with red and blue filters combine to throw auras of deep magenta on opposing walls. Four split discs of aluminum hang from the ceiling at torqued angles. As visitors enter and lie down, these mobiles spin slowly, catching light and casting morphing shadows of cursive E’s and wishbones.

Instead of being absences of light, the shadows are positives: The lights are angled so that as one mobile shines red, its corresponding shadow speaks in blue, and vice versa.

Behind this novel optical inversion was the artist and musician Marian Zazeela, who died in her sleep on March 28 after an illness, said her longtime student Jung Hee Choi, who did not specify a cause. Ms. Zazeela was 83.

Ms. Zazeela never gained the renown of James Turrell or Dan Flavin, light artists who equaled her curiosity about altering optical perception in controlled environments. That oversight may have owed less to the ephemeral nature of her works than to the fact that hers were exclusively collaborative.

Ms. Zazeela, right, with her husband, the musician and composer La Monte Young, and her longtime student Jung Hee Choi in New York City in 2009. The couple married in 1963.Credit…Will Ragozzino/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

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