James Turrell's Skyscape

May 19, 2008 /

Pomona College Museum of Art
Claremont, California, USA
On view: September 04, 2006 - May 17, 2007

Photo: Florian Holzherr © James Turrell

My work is about space and the light that inhabits it. It is about how you confront that space and plumb it with vision. It is about your seeing, like the wordless thought that comes from looking into fire./James Turrell

To celebrate the installation of the new Skyscape, the first Skyspace in Southern California to be regularly accessible to the public, the Pomona College Museum of Art presented an exhibition uniting the various threads of Turrell's artistic practice.

The Skyspace, a precisely designed architectural installation that heightens the viewer's awareness of light, sky and the activity of perception, is the form for which Turrell is renowned. Building on this formal vocabulary, the artist has created an open, transparent courtyard space in which a floating metal canopy shades the seating area and provides a frame for the sky.

Photo: arcspace

During the transition from twilight to full night, lighting elements, programmed to change in intensity and hue as they wash the underside of the canopy, create the changing perception of sky as space, form, object and void. A shallow pool centered beneath the opening to the sky mirrors the daytime sky and reflects a dark echo of the night sky.

Photo: Florian Holzherr © James Turrell
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James Turrell
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James Turrell

The exhibition offered audiences an in-depth look at Turrell's work, work that was profoundly influenced by his undergraduate studies at Pomona College in perceptual psychology and mathematics.

The exhibition included End Around, one of the artist's Ganzfeld works; two Tall Glass works from 2006, Gathered Light and Silent Leading; and a selection of models and drawings.

For End Around, Turrell transformed the main gallery of the museum into a Ganzfeld, the term refers to an undifferentiated and evenly illuminated space first described in perceptual psychology. In a Ganzfeld, depth, surface detail, and color variation are suppressed and in their place one sees a thick, all-encompassing mist of light. End Around is an immersive "sensing space," an intense experience of a field of light, in which light, so often thought of as the illumination that reveals objects, becomes instead an object of weight and mass.

Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellEnd Around entrance
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellEnd Around, 2006 (neon light, fluorescent light & space)Courtesy GRIFFIN, Santa Monica

The Tall Glass pieces are individually programmed by Turrell to create subtle shifts in color over time, an effect similar to the changes in the sky experienced in a Skyspace. The careful construction of these works ensures that the viewer sees only a floating, changing field of light - a subtle revelatory experience of photons as tangible entities and physical presence.

Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellGathered Light, 2006 (LED light, etched glass & shallow space)Courtesy Private Collection
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellSilent Leading, 2006 (LED light, etched glass & shallow space)Courtesy Private Collection

The models for Autonomous Structures, pure architectural spaces that incorporate Skyspaces or Ganzfelds, were conceived as ideal projects, although many have since been executed. They are unique architectural prototypes designed for shaping the perception of light and space. Pared down to the most lucid geometric elements, they contain experiential spaces that seem mysterious and magical.

Brings to mind the work of French visionary classical architects Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728 - 1799) and Claude Nicholas Ledoux (1736 - 1806).

Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellJump Start, 1990 (cast hydrocal plaster & wood)Courtesy GRIFFIN, Santa Monica
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellStupa Cupid, 1989 (cast hydrocal plaster & wood)Courtesy James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellMilarepa's Helmut, 1989 (cast hydrocal plaster & wood)Courtesy James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellSpread, 1989 (cast hydrocal plaster & wood)Courtesy James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellJai Singh's Sky, 1990 (cast hydrocal plaster & wood)Courtesy James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles
Photo: Florian Holzherr © James TurrellThird Day, 1989 (cast hydrocal plaster & wood)Courtesy James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles

The new Skyspace, located in the Draper Courtyard of the new Lincoln and Edmunds Buildings on the Pomona campus, has been realized in collaboration with consulting architects Marmol Radziner + Associates AIA.

The academic buildings surrounding the Skyspace house the College's departments and programs related to the science of mind, such as computer science, psychology, neuroscience and cognitive science, as well as the earth sciences of geology and environmental analysis.

The Skyscape is open to the public.

photo: arcspace
photo: arcspace
photo: arcspace

Turrell, a Pomona College alumnus (1965), currently resides in Flagstaff, Arizona where he has worked for more than 30 years on his largest and most ambitious project, the Roden Crater, an ancient volcano crater that he is molding into one of the world's most unusual and compelling light observatories.

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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