The Power of Light

Artist James Turrell to unveil hidden skyspace at University of Texas at Austin

Artist James Turrell to unveil hidden skyspace at UT Austin

James Turrell rooftop Skyspace University of Texas at Austin at night
James Turrell will have a new skyspace opening at UT Austin this fall. Rendering by Overland Partners|Architects
James Turrell Skyspace University of Texas at Austin aerial June 2013
The skyspace's white building structure already has been completed — look for it at bottom right. Photo by Richard Evans/SpawGlass Contractors Inc.
James Turrell rooftop Skyspace University of Texas at Austin at night
James Turrell Skyspace University of Texas at Austin aerial June 2013

As James Turrell continues his three-pronged attack on the art world this summer — with simultaneous retrospectives at the Solomon R. GuggenheimLos Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — construction is quietly underway at the University of Texas at Austin, where the acclaimed light artist is finishing up his next Lone Star skyspace.

With a fall opening date looming just on the horizon, the Austin project has flown under the radar in recent months as Turrell enjoys an unprecedented level of national media attention, including a New York Times Magazine cover story and a piece on CBS This Morning, which both highlighted the Houston project.

But perched high atop the roof of the university's recently constructed Student Activity Center, Turrell’s relatively small-scale UT skyspace almost seems to revel in its low profile.

“This is a far different project than the huge Twilight Epiphany space at Rice University,” says Andrée Bober, director of the university’s Landmarks public art program.  “I think ours is a very intimate and immersive piece, more like Turrell’s work at the Live Oak Meeting House in Houston.”

The as-of-yet-unnamed project at UT will seat just under 30 guests and, like Twilight Epiphany, will feature light shows for both sunrise and sunset. As of June, the skyspace’s benches, walls and unique elliptical oculus are complete. Turrell — who has worked on the project for nearly a decade and received $600,000 to design the space — is expected to program the lighting sequences at the end of the summer.

Helping to see both the University of Texas and Rice projects to fruition has been Austin-based arts supporter Suzanne Deal Booth, a former protege of Houston arts legend Dominique de Menil, who worked as an assistant for Turrell during his last major retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1980. 

Booth's decades-long friendship with the artist has helped to realize other Texas commissions in private collections as well as a large piece at Austin's Dimensional Fund Advisors, an investment firm founded by her husband, noted businessman David G. Booth. (Sadly, Dallas lost its Turrell skyspace when the artist declared his Tending, Blue at the Nasher Sculpture Center “destroyed,” due to imposing neighbor Museum Tower.)

“This piece James has created for UT is almost like a hidden treasure,” Booth says. “Students won’t just happen upon it but will have to seek it out on their own. It’s a truly marvelous piece.”