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Crystal Bridges’ Turrell Skyspace: An Optical Mystery Tour

Before other stories rose to the top, I had been planning to start this week on a lighter (and light-filled) note—CultureGrrl‘s supplement to Saturday’s offering from Real Clear Arts, where ArtsJournal blogger Judith Dobrzynski posted her photos of the James Turrell skyspace that she and I both visited earlier this month.

So now let’s get to it. Here’s its bunker-like exterior, nestled into a hillside:

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But where is this verdant hillside?

It’s on the property of the in-construction Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, one of several outdoor commissions for Alice Walton‘s new facility, where Judith and I participated in a press tour.

Turrell had spent three days at the Bentonville, AR, site, working on the lighting design for “The Way of Color.” (I’ve also seen the artist’s Tending (Blue) at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, but have not yet made the pilgrimage to their illustrious forerunner, his celebrated Roden Crater.)

At dusk, the round interior of Crystal Bridges’ skyspace, topped by a perfect-circle oculus open to the sky (allowing in the snow and rain on inclement days), becomes a mesmerizing, hallucinatory light show, with the oculus appearing to dramatically change color because of the orchestrated color changes of the space that frames it. An occasional bird makes a cameo appearance, jolting one’s reverie.

Here’s some of the scribe tribe at the recent press preview, along with David Houston, the museum’s director of curatorial, third from right. (At the bottom of this post is my video of David, elucidating “The Way of Color.”)

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And here are the oculus’ optical illusions. It’s the color of the sky appears to change dramatically, depending on the color of the ceiling that frames it. Over the period of time that you occupy this space, these color transitions unfold gradually and grandly:

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8:10 p.m.

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8:15 p.m.

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8:19 p.m.

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8:29 p.m.

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8:36 p.m.

After taking the last photo, I loosened my grip on my camera, to become completely absorbed by the sensory and spiritual experience. There’s a communal vibe that comes from sharing the aura of this space with other pilgrims.

Before the luscious melting colors had their way with us, Houston, who is clearly himself enchanted by the skyspace, introduced the piece. (You’ll also briefly see the museum’s director, Don Bacigalupi, seated among us.) Please excuse the occasional fuzziness of the audio:

an ArtsJournal blog