An Artist Who Works With Light

James Turrell is an American artist who specializes in light. He doesn’t paint it. He manipulates it. He also constructs spaces, some room-sized and some gigantic, in which light can be seen to aesthetic advantage.

From the New York Times:

Much of his art is located in the far corners of the earth. There is an 18,000-square-foot museum devoted to Turrell in the mountains of Argentina, a monumental pyramid he constructed in eastern Australia and an even larger one on the Yucatán Peninsula, with chambers that capture natural light.

Turrell is most famous for his purchase of an extinct volcano and its surrounding land in the wide open spaces near Flagstaff, Arizona:

… where he has been developing a network of tunnels and underground rooms since 1974. The volcano has a bowl-shaped depression on its top and is known as Roden Crater. Turrell has never opened the crater to the public, and he is guarded about who sees it. An invitation to visit Roden is one of the most coveted tickets in American art.

A view of Roden Crater:

roden crater 2

In the early 70s, Turrell bought a small airplane so he could fly around the Southwest looking for a small mountain to use as an enormous studio:

Each evening, he would land the plane wherever he happened to be, unfurling a bedroll to sleep beneath its wing. In the morning, he was back in flight, scanning the desert floor. He wanted to find a small mountain surrounded by plains, so the view from on top would resemble that of flight. Inside the mountain, he planned to carve tunnels and chambers illuminated by celestial light.

Inside the mountain:


Turrell Roden Crater Detail of Sky Tunnell 1977-present


This summer, museums in Los Angeles, Houston and New York are putting on exhibitions of Turrell’s work. None of the museums have room for a mountain, so they’ll exhibit artworks like these rooms instead:

james turrell2

It’s nothing like Rembrandt, but it must be wonderful to experience. It’s also wonderful that someone belonging to our species has imagined and created such things.

The long New York Times article about Turrell:

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