Serious Light Play

James Turrell has been the subject of a great deal of press in 2013, not only for opening a trifecta of installtions across Texas (Austin, Dallas and Houston), but also for being first artist to have concurrent exhibitions at the Los Angeles County of Modern Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Guggenheim. However, Turrell has been at work as an engineer of light since 1967 — the results of which he calls "Skyspaces."

The New York Times was right to say it's hard to describe Turrell's work "without descending into gibberish." The concept of his art is inherently hard to put into words. But most commonly (and amateurly put), Turrell's Skyspaces can be described as viewing chambers installed with LED light sequences that are juxtaposed against an "oculus," or opening in the roof that exposes the sky. 

What happens when viewers surrender to the instillation  — and a proper Skyspace experience does require a resignation of both time and senses — is a change so gradual, it's almost imperceptible. Over the course of an hour, the LED lights slowly shift from grey to magenta to green (among other colors), and with it, the appearance of the sliver of sky changes from lavender to yellow to deep blue.

Each hue evokes a different emotion, and the sky takes on the characteristics of a swollen belly protruding through the oculus, powerfully forcing itself in and out as Turrell's sequence slowly plays out.

"The truth is, I wanted people to treasure light as we treasure gold, silver, and, of course, paintings," Turrell told Interview magazine

"So generally, we use light to illuminate or to reveal, but light also obscures. I look at light as a material. It is physical . . . And I’ve always wanted to accord to light its thing-ness. That was very important to me to do."

To alter your perception of what is — or isn't — light, we recommend you visit one of the following Skyspaces in Texas:

  • Live Oak Friends Meeting, 1318 West 26th Street, Houston
  • Twilight Epiphany, Rice University, Houston
  • The Color Inside, University of Texas, Austin
  • Tending, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (note: currently closed due to obstruction of view)