Art, Arizona + Turrell's Skyspaces...

Posted on by Lauren Moss

Thoughts on the relationships between form, light + spatial experience, as experienced through James Turrell's skyspaces and the minimalist desert landscapes they inhabit...

arizona saguaro

The desert environment is of great appeal to many artists and architects who find inspiration in the sculptural nature of the landscape, the expansive stretches of sand and saguaros, and a sense of connectedness between land and sky.

We share in these sentiments and travel to Arizona often, where one of our favorite destinations is the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA). An intimate space that was once a theater, the building was adapted and re-designed by well-known Phoenix-based architect Will Bruder in 1999.


SMoCA is also home to James Turrell's Knight Rise, a wonderful skyspace with an elliptical opening at the ceiling, enabling a heightened awareness of light and space. This awareness, coupled with the quiet minimalism of the desert landscape, creates a strong sense of connectedness to the environment and the passage of time, as the light entering slowly makes its way along the curving walls of the space.


It is with these simple and thoughtful details that Turrell's intent- to explore the perception and experience of light, space and time- is conveyed through experience.

An artist known for his land art (in particular the Roden Crater), James Turrell has been gaining more exposure recently with the opening of one of his most unique skyspaces to date- 'Twilight Epiphany' at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. A square opening at the core of the pavilion and daily light sequences enhance the experience of place and the art within it, as described in the short video below.

Though it's difficult to express the atmospheric qualities of these spaces through photos or video, the imagery and commentary do a admirable job of capturing the experiential quality of this unique skyspace. More information on the structure can be found at Rice University's website.


For more on Turrell's approach and philosophy, stop by his profile at art21, or for an excellent in-depth interview, read 'Greeting the Light' at It offers detailed insights into his thoughts on art, perspective and time that give even more meaning to the beautiful spaces he creates and the magical desert landscapes that inspire him.