Skyspace construction begins

Bradenton Herald – If you’ve had the opportunity to visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum lately, you may have noticed the giant crane hovering over the south end.

That crane, I discovered, marks the beginning of the museum’s next artistic undertaking — a skyspace designed by James Turrell, one of the world’s most respected contemporary artists.

Dr. Matthew McLendon, Ringling’s new associate curator of modern and contemporary art, said the skyspace — which will be the first of its kind in Florida — will be a huge acquisition for the museum. People travel the world to see the artist’s jaw-dropping work, he said.

Turrell’s unique skyspaces serve as open skylights, allowing the sky to look as if it were painted on the ceiling. The heavens then become a work of art in and of itself.

“As the sky changes you are given the space and the opportunity to slow down and witness that change,” McLendon said.

To me, the space sounds like a tranquil sanctuary of light — a place to leave the crazy world as we know it behind and behold one of the natural wonders of the universe.

The skyspace at Ringling will be in the courtyard of the museum’s Searing wing. It will consist of a room with a massive square-shaped hole in the roof. The project is estimated to be built within 10-12 months with a “considerable” price tag, McLendon said. It will be funded by private donors eager to see the museum progress into the 21st century, he added.

All that sounded impressive to me, but I couldn’t help but ask McLendon this question: What if it rains?

“The rain is part of the experience,” he said. “When rain comes in, it will pour in sheets from the oculus to a gutter drain. In the drain is a secondary lighting system, so light will go up the rain and the sheets of rain will become curtains of light. It’s going to be really amazing.”

Turrell is known to manipulate the natural beauty of his skyspaces by adding LED lighting to change our perception of the sky and the light it holds. The artist has a degree in perceptual psychology and has always been enchanted with how people perceive light.

His most ambitious project to date has been transforming a defunct volcanic crater in Flagstaff, Arizona into a natural observatory. It hasn’t been as easy as it seems. In fact, Turrell has been working on it for more than 30 years, excavating and carving a space that includes a series of passes and chambers to view light. The Roden Crater is expected to open in 2011.

McLendon said Turrell’s goal is to have people sit and contemplate the light for its intrinsic beauty and value.

They may also end up fathoming the metaphorical, philosophical and spiritual ideas surrounding the concept of light.

Turrell’s skyspace will be something to look forward to next year. It will indeed usher the museum into its next 100 years.

McLendon likens it to Ringling’s bold purchase of Peter Paul Rubens’ art in the 1920s. Ruben was a prolific European artist, known for his religious and mythological paintings.

“It’s every bit as bold,” McLendon said.

Keep watching for more updates on this cool project.

published Aug. 15, 2010

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