Pieces of Sky

Architectural artist James Turrell wields light and space to dramatic effect in the Colorado Rockies.
James Turrell's Skyspace
Idyllic waters, mountains and plant life surround James Turrell’s Skyspace. Photo: Buffalo Media Group;

By Julia Szabo

“Finding a Western American artist who represents today’s values is not easy to do,” observes art and architecture connoisseur Christian Keesee. Indeed, art of the golden West follows a long, strong cowboys-and-Indians trail, especially in Keesee’s home state of Oklahoma. Politely disrupting tradition, Keesee’s vision gave rise to the newest Skyspace (a series of more than 85 observatories worldwide) by James Turrell, opening to visitors this June in “the gem of the Rockies,” Green Mountain Falls, Colorado.

Long an admirer of architecture as art (and proud owner of “Cloud City,” Tomás Saraceno’s giant-scale sculpture of interconnected modules, exhibited in 2012 on the roof of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), Keesee was overjoyed to meet with the famously private Turrell and describe his proposal for a permanent, site-specific installation custom-tailored for Green Mountain Falls, in the shadow of Pikes Peak, where Keesee and generations of his family have spent summers. Turrell, a founding figure of the Light and Space movement that emerged on the American art scene in late-1960s California, defines a Skyspace as “a specifically proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky.”

At Turrell’s Flagstaff, Arizona, studio, artist and collector discussed their shared mission of fostering a legacy of arts education. “It was a meeting of the minds,” Keesee recalls. “He loved what we’re doing with Green Box [the Colorado Skyspace’s nonprofit programming and community engagement entity, of which Keesee is co-founder with his partner, Larry Keigwin]. The Skyspace was commissioned by the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation. Many of Turrell’s commissions are for individual, private use; when we told him how we envisioned this Skyspace to be open to the elementary school of Green Mountain Falls, his face just lit up.”

James Turrell's Skyspace
The new Skyspace features an open ceiling, bringing natural beauty into the structure. Photo: HSE Architects of Oklahoma City

The newest Turrell illuminates this summer, with LED beams emanating from within the Skyspace, while rays of sunlight enter the structure through the oculus. The artificial-natural light show, masterminded by Turrell, will coincide with daily sunrise and sunset viewings. jamesturrell.com