NORTH ADAMS — Artist James Turrell is turning an unused concrete water tank on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s campus into his latest Skyspace.
When completed and opened to the public May 29, the former water tank, used by Sprague Electric Co. as a standby fire-suppression water source, will be one of the largest of Turrell’s Skyspaces in North America.
“The work’s simplicity and raw industrial materials are in keeping with my earlier works of the 1970s and 1980s, which I guess is not surprising, since that’s when this project was first conceived,” Turrell said in a release.
A Turrell Skyspace, according to the artist’s website, “is a specifically proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky. The aperture in the ceiling of a room or building frames the sky as a canvas with infinite depth.”
Seemingly bringing the sky closer to the viewer, Skyspaces function as naked-eye observatories, which encourage a focused contemplation of light and space.
Turrell created his first Skyspace in 1974, and today over 80 exist in public and private collections worldwide. Mass MoCA’s Skyspace will be the light sculptor’s largest free-standing circular piece to date — 40 feet in diameter and 40 feet high — with a capacity for 50 viewers.
The Skyspace will join Turrell’s long-term exhibition of works already at the museum, which includes one work from each of his six-decades-long career. The addition of the Skyspace will mean that Mass MoCA will have one of the world’s most comprehensive experiences of installations by the artist, as it now will have a major example of every category of the artist’s work on display.
In addition, “Lapsed Quaker Ware,” a focused exhibition of Turrell’s ceramics, will run from May 29 through Oct. 30, 2022.
Envisioned over 30 years ago
“This Skyspace was first conceived 33 years ago, when Turrell toured the Mass MoCA campus and identified the remains of an abandoned concrete water tank as an ideal site for the development of a Skyspace,” Joseph Thompson, retired founding director, said in a statement. “In many ways, this story exemplifies Mass MoCA’s commitment to supporting artists and their careers over time, and to working with them to realize their dreams, no matter how big or ambitious.”
Interim Director Tracy Moore added: “With the completion of the Skyspace this spring, we are very proud to be the only North American institution offering a comprehensive overview of the artist’s career.”
The Mass MoCA Skyspace will be enhanced by the addition of contemporary state-of-the art lighting technology, precise programmable controls, and a highly sophisticated electromechanical roof dome made from lightweight composite materials that provide complete light and weather sealing.
During dusk and dawn, the aperture will be opened and the space will be exposed to the sky, with subtle interior lighting that complements the change in natural light during sunset and sunrise. During the day, the dome will be sealed and will be transformed into a tightly controlled multisensory environment, with light projected across the cylindrical interior walls and domed ceiling and sound altered by the contours of the architecture.
Mass MoCA also will present a small focused show of behind-the-scenes “making of” drawings, including hand sketches, used in the development of the Skyspace.
Lapsed Quaker ware
Hancock Shaker Village will open an exhibition of Turrell’s pottery, on May 30, a day after Mass MoCA. The simultaneous presentations will highlight works made in collaboration between Turrell and Irish potter Nicholas Mosse, of Kilkenny, Ireland.
Both artists, at the time of their meeting, were lapsed Quakers (also known as Society of Friends). Both since have returned to their Quaker roots and have revived the tradition of making black basalt tableware.
The pottery is inspired by the black basalt work of English potter Josiah Wedgwood in the 18th century. Wedgwood made a decorative black basalt ware for the general English market, along with a simpler version for the American Quaker market.