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World-Renowned Artist James Turrell Creates a Skyspace for Kansas City

James Turrell © James Turrell (photo by Florian Holzherr)

First of its Kind in Missouri or Kansas

The Kansas City Museum has announced that it is working with artist James Turrell and International Architects Atelier to create a Turrell Skyspace at the Kansas City Museum. The museum is in the early stages of design, with the Turrell Skyspace slated to open in 2024.

James Turrell (b. 1943, Los Angeles, California), one of the most prolific artists of our time, has been recognized across the globe for his artistic and architectural contributions. Turrell has installed works in 17 states in the U.S. and in 22 countries. For more than 50 years, Turrell has worked directly with light and space to create artworks that engage viewers with the limits and wonder of human perception and reality. Turrell, an avid pilot who has logged over 12,000 hours flying, considers the sky as his studio, material and canvas.

A Turrell Skyspace is a specifically proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky. Skyspaces are site-specific and can be autonomous structures or integrated into existing architecture. The aperture can be round, elliptical or square. Viewers sit inside the chamber to observe the sky. A sequenced light program inside the Skyspace, designed by Turrell, interacts with the atmospheric light coming through the aperture in the ceiling to create a spectrum of colors and an immersive sensory experience particularly robust at dawn and dusk. There are more than 85 Skyspaces in the world, with 38 of them in the United States, and the Kansas City Museum’s Skyspace is the first in Missouri or Kansas.

The Kansas City Museum Skyspace will be its own independent 700-square-foot structure on the west side of the Kansas City Museum property. To create the Skyspace, the museum will repurpose the existing underground cooling tower structure — a concrete box that contains HVAC equipment which is being relocated. Visitors will enter the Skyspace through a walkway that descends into the chamber. Visitors will sit approximately 11 feet underground in the Skyspace chamber and view the sky through a square oculus with a retractable roof in the ceiling of a limestone structure approximately 14 feet above ground. The Skyspace is being acoustically designed for programs and music performances to celebrate Kansas City’s music history and heritage. In 2017, Kansas City became a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Kansas City is the only UNESCO Creative City of Music in the United States.

Conversations with James Turrell about creating a Skyspace for the Kansas City Museum began in 2014. The Kansas City Museum’s Skyspace is yet another creative project that advances the mission, vision and overall master plan for the Kansas City Museum property while honoring the museum’s history. Kansas City Museum Foundation Chair Allen Dillingham remarks, “The Skyspace is a meaningful, innovative way to honor the history of the museum’s former beloved planetarium and create a new, significant artwork and destination for our City and State. We are honored, proud and grateful to work with James Turrell.”

Kansas City Museum Foundation Vice Chair Sonié Joi-Thompson Ruffin notes, “The Kansas City Museum sits atop the Missouri River Valley adjacent to parkland. As the Home of the Whole Story of our City’s history, the museum serves as a beacon on the bluff, illuminating the often-untold stories, shining a light on the unacknowledged or deeply buried histories, and inspiring an enlightened understanding and acceptance for our shared experiences.”

The Kansas City Museum’s Skyspace will be a creative, restorative space for observation, perspective, reflection and connection. Kansas City Museum Executive Director Anna Marie Tutera explains, “Turrell Skyspaces reaffirm that we all share the same sky. As time passes, we are witness to the infinite history and future that surround us — the outer vastness. The framed sky will be an invitation to slow down, let your eyes relax, and allow the present and your presence to come into focus. I imagine the Kansas City Museum Skyspace as a light that connects us and reveals the lineage of lives and legacies that envelop and inspire us.”

To learn more about the Turrell Skyspace at the Kansas City Museum, visit kansascitymuseum.org/skyspace/.

–Anna Marie Tutera

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