Airport, please! James Turrell’s Skyspaces: down memory lane in today’s LRFA Blog post
The LRFA Blog is looking forward to the James Turrell installation at Mass MoCA that opens in May.
“I can make the sky any color you choose.” — James Turrell
Thirty years in the making, James Turrell’s largest free-standing circular Skyspace opens on the MASS MoCA campus in May 2021. Measuring 40 feet in diameter and 40 feet high, this repurposed concrete water tank transforms into one of Turrell’s signature immersive light installations, carving out a small piece of the sky and framing it as a canvas with infinite depth. Skyspace joins Into the Light, a long-term retrospective of Turrell’s work, making MASS MoCA the only North American institution offering a comprehensive overview of the artist’s career.
The LRFA blog was reminded of a marvelous adventure a long time ago in Houston, when Texas seemed a safer destination than now. Then, any and all art-related trips were welcome, some spontaneous, most planned, to include client visits, seeing collections, visiting galleries and heading to the local museums. A memorable and beloved detour was a trip to the outskirts of the city of Houston. As an avid James Turrell fan, I was determined to visit as many of Turrell’s Skyspaces as possible, and also to pay tribute to a great client and friend who had visited Turrell’s Roden Crater and commissioned the artist to create a skyspace at his children’s school, The Greenwich Academy, in Connecticut.
The Skyspace project at Live Oak Friends Meeting House was completed in 2001 and incorporates two James Turrell installations. The first, Meeting House 2000, later re-named One Accord, is open to the sky in clear weather. The second installation, called Night Piece, uses neon lights to simulate the evening sky. Created by James Turrell — one of the most important artists to pioneer the use of light as a medium, and himself a Quaker – the Skyspace is designed to allow viewers to experience what Turrell has called “a light that inhabits space, so that you feel light to be physically present.”
Quaker ideas about light are integral to Turrell’s practice.
“We use the vocabulary of light to describe a spiritual experience. One of the tenets in Quaker meditation is that you ‘go inside to greet the light.’ I am interested in this light that’s inside greeting the light that’s outside.”
Recommended reading: Art21’s Interview with Turrell on the Live Oak Quaker Meeting House.
James Turrell was born into a devout Quaker family in Los Angeles in 1943. He tells a story of sitting in the Quaker meeting house with his grandmother when he was five or six years old. When everyone closed their eyes at the beginning of the meeting, he asked his grandmother what they were supposed to be doing. She told him: “Just wait, we’re going inside to greet the light.'”
Turrell was part of a generation accustomed to enormous advancements in technology and the excitement of the space race. In 1968 and 1969, he, along with artist Robert Irwin, worked on the Art and Technology program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with Ed Wortz, a scientist at a Southern California aerospace firm. Turrell was considered a member of the Light and Space Movement, that includes Mary Corse and Larry Bell.
The Roden Crater, though unfinished, has already been transformed over the past thirty years into a celestial observatory that intertwines art, architecture, and astronomy. Roden Crater is a 380,000-year-old extinct volcano in Arizona’s Painted Desert that Turrell acquired in the late 1970s. The land artist has spent nearly 50 years turning into his largest Skyspace project yet, removing millions of cubic yards of earth to change its shape, and adding tunnels and chambers from which to view the sky. When completed, the project will contain 21 viewing spaces and six tunnels. While this project is not yet open to the public, several smaller projects of independent architectural spaces (Skyspaces) emulate chambers in the Roden Crater. Over 100 Skyspaces can be viewed in museums and countries across the world. Kanye West’s film Jesus is King, allowed us a glimpse into the Roden Crater since it served as the location for the film.
The LRFA blog recommends a pilgrimage to visit as many of James Turrell’s Skyscapes as possible, for now at least online. A very good Rx for the isolating and claustrophobic effects of quarantine restriction.