James Turrell Shuts MoMa Skyspace As Neighbouring Construction Invades Installation


James Turrell has voluntarily shut his popular Skyspace installation at MoMA PS1 due to scaffolding from a nearby construction site overshadowed the delicate viewing chamber.

It was reported that Turrell ordered the installation be closed until the scaffolding is removed from the neighbouring building. Meeting is a permanent installation, typical of Turrell’s specifications which requires a clear view of the sky.

The dating of Turrell’s work takes into account its evolution over nearly 40 years

In 1979, James Turrell stood on the roof of a dilapidated former public school in Queens wielding a heavy-duty pneumatic jackhammer. He used it to cut through four feet of concrete in the exterior of the building that would eventually become MoMA PS1, creating the rectangular oculus of Meeting (1980–86/2016), one of his earliest “Skyspaces.” While dozens now exist, Meeting was only the second Skyspace that Turrell had created, and the first in the United States. For decades it was a permanent fixture of the building, but in 2014, badly in need of repairs, it closed to the public. Meeting reopened in October following an extensive set of renovations overseen by the artist, which modified the work without fundamentally altering its nature as a place where, as Turrell has put it, the viewer meets “the space of the sky. So, the sky’s no longer out there anymore, but it seems to be brought close in touch with you and [the] space where you sit.”

James Turrell © PC Robinson 2019
James Turrell © PC Robinson 2019

The dating of Turrell’s work takes into account its evolution over nearly 40 years; first opened in 1980, it underwent renovation six years later to become more accessible. As part of the most recent repairs and enhancements, Turrell replaced the original plywood seating with teak, raising its height slightly and modifying the size of the oculus to accommodate the change. He added new multicoloured LED lighting that activates during sunrise and sunset, adjusting automatically throughout the course of the year. As a result, the appearance of Meeting has changed, but as Turrell has explained, at that time he was limited both by technology and resources; the renovated space comes closer to what he had originally envisioned.

The history of Meeting begins in 1976, when the visionary curator Alanna Heiss invited nearly 100 artists to create and exhibit their work in a former public school (P.S.1) in Long Island City, Queens. (Heiss managed to secure a 20-year lease on the building, which was still owned by the City of New York, for a nominal cost.) For the first show at P.S.1, Rooms, Heiss invited the city’s most cutting-edge artists to engage with the crumbling architecture of the neo-Romanesque building in ways that would radically reshape the trajectory of avant-garde art in New York. Artists responded to and literally altered the very fabric of the unconventional galleries, cementing a new kind of practice that would come to be known as “installation.” Turrell was one of the artists that Heiss invited to participate.

Heiss first experienced Turrell’s work when she traveled to Italy in 1975 to visit the home of Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, who was an important early patron and collector of Minimalist art. Between 1974 and 1975, Turrell had created two penetrating cuts into the architecture of Panza di Biumo’s villa, one of which consisted of a rectangular opening directly to the sky overhead. Turrell also installed artificial lighting in the room’s interior, and Panza di Biumo has described the effect produced by this interior light as it interacted with the light outside: “[The] sky became pale blue and lost its depth, appearing again like a surface painted with a light color, something solid and ready to come out of a frame.” This was the first in a series of works that Turrell would call “Skyspaces,” carefully designed rooms or freestanding structures with precisely cut apertures in the ceiling that open directly onto views of the sky. Heiss was moved by what she saw in Italy, writing to Panza di Biumo upon her return that it had been “so inspiring to see the Turrell that I went right back to N.Y. and started work on the ‘West-East’ show.” An exhibition featuring the work of West Coast Minimalists, West East went on view in 1980, coinciding with the completion of Meeting.

James Turrell. “Meeting.” 1980–86/2016. Installation view, MoMA PS1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mark and Lauren Booth in honor of the 40th anniversary of MoMA PS1. Photograph: Pablo Enrique

“James Turrell’s Meeting at MoMA PS1 will remain closed until construction scaffolding is no longer visible from the work,”

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