The James Turrell Skyspace
December 3rd, 2013 | Back to Blog Listing

Today I had the pleasure of being invited to one of the most amazing visual art installments I have ever seen anywhere in the world. The piece was created by James Turrell and sits atop the Student Activity Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

I most certainly cannot do the piece justice in words, but I will try to describe it objectively. Atop the student building is an oval-shaped concrete dome. There is a single entrance on the east side. Inside are polished concrete seats wrapping the edges, save for the entrance. The seats are angled so that the viewer can more comfortably gaze up at the ceiling. All of the walls and ceiling are painted white; the seats are a darker gray. In the middle of the white ceiling is an oval-shaped hole. The viewer sits on the seat and stares into the sky through this hole, of course only able to see a small bit of the sky at any given time.

Less than an hour from sundown (and sunrise), the light show begins. As the lights [very] slowly rotate through a series of vivid colors, the viewer gets entirely lost in the color-shifting effects in the sky. As the surrounding light changes, it contrasts the sky so vividly that the juxtaposed images appear to shift the color of the sky. Of course that is not actually the case at all and instead our eyes simply perceive this to be happening. The color differential also creates an illusion that the opening in the ceiling is a floating egg (or similar physical entity). It's incredibly surreal, peaceful, and amazing.


A view of the dusky sky surrounded by yellow lighting. This was my favorite color sequence. When I would let the scene take over my eyes, I thought the scene looked like a giant sunflower.


Another photo just to show how significant the color difference makes to the sky.

Although I wasn't previously familiar with Turrell by name, I actually had the pleasure of seeing one of his private light installments on a daily basis for over a year. I worked as a contractor for Dimensional Fund Advisors in their Austin office near Bee Caves. If you're not familiar with them, DFA is an incredibly successful mutual fund company that was started by David Booth in Santa Monica, California. They moved their headquarters to Austin about five years ago and built one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen. As it happens, David's wife, Suzanna Booth, is a huge proponent of the arts. The entire building is essentially a private art museum and the Turrell piece is just one of many amazing elements within it.

So although I already really enjoyed the artist, this was the first time I had the pleasure of actually learning about him. I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially those interested in the visual arts.