Pomona College Museum of Art
Through May 17, 2008
For much of his 30-year career, James Turrell has straddled the boundary between art and architecture. From “Skyspaces” constructed for viewing the heavens to astrological observatories in “Roden Crater,” an extinct Arizona volcano, Turrell has manipulated space or at least the perception of it.
This month, the artist will be celebrated at his alma mater, Pomona College, with the Oct. 13 opening of his latest Skyspace, as well as a symposium to explore its meaning and a companion exhibition through which to view three decades of Turrell's light-based art.
The Pomona Skyspace was commissioned to give purpose to a new campus courtyard, where students of perceptual psychology and neuro- and computer sciences will converge between classes. Turrell answered his client's call with a canopy of stainless steel resting on slim columns. A hole overhead will allow for observation of the passing sky from square stone benches at the perimeter. A square stone pool directly beneath the aperture will reflect the view.
During the day, the Skyspace may encourage meditation or simply provide a place to check text messages in the shade. At dusk, programmed LED lighting hidden in a trough at the edges of the canopy will vary in intensity and hue, turning the underside of the eggshell-white canopy into a canvas.
“He wants his work to allow people to have a connection with the cosmos, not in a way that is overwhelming or to indicate how small you are, but to have a sense of connection,” says Kathleen Howe, director of Pomona's museum, which will display Turrell's “End Around” (shown above)—one of the artist's “Ganzfeld” works, which are named for an ESP test—along with models, drawings, and two LED “Tall Glass” works from 2006.
A native of Los Angeles, Turrell grew up with Quaker sensibilities, learned to fly, and earned degrees in perceptual psychology (from Pomona) and fine art (from Claremont Graduate School) before deciding to renegotiate the relationship between light and space through installation art.
Turrell's work has been dismissed as “just light on a wall,” and the artist actually was sued by a museum visitor who fell after trying to lean on a Turrell light “wall.” But Turrell also has been described as the last great American romantic artist, and his decades-long Roden Crater project has been likened to a Sistine Chapel in the Painted Desert.
The Pomona installation, symposium, and exhibition offer an opportunity for consensus. www.pomona.edu