Life moves fast, and James Turrell thinks we should slow down and absorb the miracles at hand. Pure light unites the diversity of Turrell’s work, from architectural light installations to luminous rooms that dissolve depth perception.
However, California-born and Arizona-based Turrell is perhaps best known for his , powerful Minimalist experiences of Turrell’s own design, all centered around apertures that frame the shifting sky.
“With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at?” Turrell asks. “You are looking at you looking. What is important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought.”
Started in 1974, the series has grown to include nearly 90 unique installations around world. Most recently, Turrell unveiled one in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, his first-ever built a mountain. There’s another slated for Kansas City in 2024.
The put it best: Turrell’s works “are dull to describe but magical to experience firsthand.” Every offers its own enchantment, even though a lot of the same ones get repeated exposure. So in an effort to dig deeprer, we’ve perused some deep a tour into the phenomenon.
Space That Sees
Where: Israel Museum, Jerusalem
What to Know: Although this is the fifth installment in the series, it’s the earliest full-sized specimen open to the public. The work enfolds a “shrine-like inner space,” according to the museum, in warm concrete and limestone walls crowned by a rectangular cut out discerning the shifting sky.
Hard Scrabble Sky
Where: University of Illinois, Chicago
What to Know: Many of Turrell’s are either in private collections, require tickets, or feature security details. But this work, sometimes called the , is apparently the only one in the world that’s always accessible to the public.
Where: Live Oak Friends Meeting House, Houston
What to Know: This work, a functioning Quaker Meeting House, is special in part because more than most other works, it reflects Turrell’s deep theological interests and background.
Where: Rice University, Houston
What to Know: This seemingly weightless pyramidal structure of grass, concrete, stone, and composite steel has an integrated acoustic system built into it so that up to 120 guests can enjoy musical performances alongside two daily LED light cycles at sunrise and sunset.
Where: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
What to Know: Even without special effects, Turrell’s work still thrills. Quietly nestled into in the Twin Cities, its entrance would be easy to miss, suggesting how much quietude is a central focus of Turrell’s work.
Where: Jardín Botánico Culiacán, Culiacán, Mexico
What to Know: The artist’s first public in Latin America is also his most campy: shaped like a UFO, it appears to be landing atop a grassy mound.
Dividing the Light
Where: Pomona College, Claremont, California
What to Know: The artist’s alma mater, where he earned an undergraduate degree in perceptual psychology in 1965, is the site of one of his most classically beautiful . A square canopy shades viewers around a central pool that reflects the sky, translating light into an LED show that cycles from goldenrod to turquoise with the sunrise and sunset.
Where: Stonescape, Napa Valley
What to Know: To reach , visitors must take a full dip in an adjacent swimming pool, providing for quite the sensory experience.
Where: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
What to Know: This complex, angular is a square-based pyramid with soft red ochre interiors that houses the viewing chamber, a stupa of Victorian basalt with an open roof. The room glows in reflected, bright blue water and is anchored by a central moonstone that mimics the shape of the oculus above.
House of Light
Where: Tokamachi, Japan
What to Know: Commissioned for the first edition of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Turrell drew inspiration for this structure from Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay “In Praise of Shadows.”
Where: MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
What to Know: This 40-by-40 foot repurposed concrete tank marks Turrell’s largest freestanding circular to date and opens twice daily at dawn and dusk.
Where: Kielder Water, Northumberland, UK
What to Know: This simple circular on a rocky outcropping strikes a compelling contrast with its pastoral setting. At night, Turrell’s recently renovated light display kicks in, filling the humble brick structure with otherworldly hues.
Where: James Turrell Museum, Bodega Colomé, Salta, Argentina
What to Know: At the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to his work, Turrell created what is allegedly the world’s largest , empowering new levels of illusion.