The James Turrell Skyspace
Many people are unaware, but UT owns a permanent exhibit by artist James Turrell that is located on the roof of the SAC. It’s called The Color Inside, and is one of his many “Skyspaces” that can be found in locations across the world. It consists of a small, egg-shaped room with a bench wrapping itself around the wall. The walls are completely white, and there is an oval cut into the ceiling. Through it, you can see the sky, and this is James Turrell’s work. He is a prolific artist who doesn’t use paint, or clay, or even wood – his medium is light. In this room that he designed, you can sit on the benches and at sunrise and sunset, the natural light from the sky reflects into the white space, creating beautiful colors and patterns. This is a quiet and serene space in the middle of our busy campus that is always open to anyone. While it is always open, and always a wonderful place to relax, the best times to come are at sunrise and sunset. The art is the light itself, and Turrell only considers it to be a work of art during those two times, when the light and colors become visible. Turrell noticed that our perception of light and what we see can vary based on the environment and how the light is presented to us, and created this vast white space as a canvas for people to view it. He has spent his entire career manipulating the environment in which people perceive light, so that they can see it in a – excuse the pun – whole new light.
During daylight, all the walls remain white, contrasted only to the black benches lining the room. About an hour before sunset, the room turns a dusky lavender. It stays that color for almost a half hour, slowly deepening in shade with every passing minute. As the sunset draws closer, the light starts to change color, from a saturated purple to a yellow, then orange, then rose, then back to blue and purple again. The colors get most intense at sunset and immediately after, but the entire experience is still beautiful to watch. There is absolutely nothing else to focus on, besides the light, so the experience becomes immersive and intense. The room is quiet, and you forget that you are in the middle of campus in a bustling city.
This isn’t Turrell’s only work, or even his only “Skyspace.” There are installations all over the world, and The Color Inside is Turrell’s 84th Skyspace. There is another installation found a few hours away, on the Rice University campus, and another permanent exhibit at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. Each Skyspace has a different position on Earth, so each work reflects light in a completely unique way. Turrell has been an active artist since the late 60’s, but throughout his career, he has always focused on light, and how our eyes discern it. Recently, he has been working on a large-scale project in the Arizona Painted Desert. Roden Crater, thework is called, consists of the crater of an extinct volcano that he is transforming into a public observatory from which to view light and the sky. Turrell’s work as public art is also significant. Just like The Color Inside, most of Turrell’s works are in accessible, public locations, where people who would not normally wander into a museum are given a chance to experience and have a relationship with art in a way they normally would not.
The Color Inside remains a unique work of public art that offers a lot to our campus, as a sensory experience, a place to unwind, and just a quiet place free for from distraction to think.