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Step Inside UT’s Newest Masterpiece

“The Color Inside” is a new naked-eye observatory from renowned “sculptor of light” James Turrell. The artist participates in a free QandA Friday, Oct. 18.

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James Turrell

[Credit: Florian Holzherr] 
James Turrell


Consider the Forty Acres’ newest Landmarks art installation as the antidote to smartphoneitis that modern affliction causing otherwise engaged human beings to droop their necks down toward the glow of tiny screens, ignoring dinner guests and oncoming traffic.

In contrast, “The Color Inside” by renowned “sculptor of light” James Turrell propels the viewer’s gaze upward to the heavens, challenging typical perceptions of light, sky and space. No screens allowed.

The piece, opening Saturday, Oct. 19, is the newest iteration of Turrell’s signature “Skyspace” naked-eye observatories. Designed specifically for the university, it stands on the rooftop of the Student Activity Center (SAC) and was commissioned by Landmarks, the university’s public art program.

It is difficult to describe, but easy to appreciate in person, even for those who aren’t familiar with contemporary art. (Visit the Skyspace website for hours and free reservations.)

“The Color Inside” is an elliptical white-plaster tower with an oval opening in the ceiling. A black basalt bench lines the reclining walls, with room for just 25 people.

At sunrise and sunset custom LED lights unleash brilliant washes of color on the ceiling, morphing slowly between all manner of pinks, purples, whites, greens and yellows. Meanwhile, the sky changes color with the rising or setting of the sun and in comparison to the ceiling. In one sunset sequence, the sky shifts from indigo to gray to rust and then finally a vivid teal set against saturated watermelon LEDs.

The design of the tower and the intensity of the lights sometimes make it impossible to discern sky from ceiling. All sense of depth seems to disappear.

It’s a sight that often leaves visitors at a loss for words.

“I can’t begin to do the experience justice,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, after taking in a sneak preview of the Skyspace. “At one moment you’re seeing clouds, at another you’re looking at a swirling sphere of hues that looked more like Jupiter than anything on Mother Earth.”

One of the reasons Landmarks director Andrée Bober chose the SAC for the Skyspace’s location was the student body’s request for a “reflection room” for the building.

“I hope that people find it as a place of refuge, a way to cultivate attention and have a moment of quiet in a busy day,” says Bober, who hopes the piece becomes a new university icon.

She adds that pieces like “The Color Inside” which Landmarks brings to campus are particularly valuable because they’re educational but also available to the public.

“It will be a primary resource for visual art students, but it’s not sequestered in the classroom. We’re sharing it with everyone,” Bober says.

Slideshow of “The Color Inside” light program:

Lynn Herbert, former senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, discusses Turrell’s work:

Related Stories:

Visit the Harry Ransom Center’s James Turrell Display

Landmarks: Art on the Forty Acres