James Turrell's Roden crater

Turrell ’s Most Ambitious Work Yet

Turrell explores sensory limitations and their relationship to social and cultural patterns. But Roden Crater is his most ambitious work yet…

The word innovation comes up frequently in the advertising world. Whether it is a promising lens, a dashing vehicle or a vain mascara, they all promise the same thing: innovation. I still find Nissan’s slogan unforgettable. But the idea of innovation, aside from being a successful sales strategy, feeds our most profound and metaphysical concerns. Although art is ideally heartfelt, it is the 21st century and we cannot hide behind a naïve understanding of the art world. Art is a product as well and needs to be reinvented constantly.

James Turrell Roden Crater
Courtesy: James Turrell
James Turrell Roden Creater 2010
Courtesy: Florian Holzherr

Throughout history, most evidently in modern art history, it can be observed that ambitious shifts took place to challenge past doctrines. The answer to the question ‘what is art?’ is a breath of eternal metamorphosis. Every day artists become more motivated to revolutionize art and its conception; and many have succeeded momentarily. But only a few have been able to transcend and I believe this will be the case with James Turrell’s Roden Crater.

James Turrell is known for his fascination with light and its exploration as an art form. In the New Yorker, critic Calvin Tompkins wrote: “His work is not about light, or a record of light; it is light — the physical presence of light made manifest in sensory form.” Turrell received training about perceptual psychology, which informed him about human conception of light and allowed him to use it as a medium. In his work, Turrell explores sensory limitations and their relationship to social and cultural patterns. But Roden Crater is his most ambitious work yet.

Roden Crater
Courtesy: Roden Crater
Roden Crater's James Turrell
Courtesy: Roden Crater

This artwork promises an illuminated dialogue with the clouds

Turrell purchased Roden Crater, which is a cinder volcano located in the Painted Dessert in North Arizona. Turrell spotted the crater in 1974 from an airplane and soon applied for a loan. At the time, Turrell was married and had children and his wife did not support his decision; she argued that a loan would mortgage their children’s future. The ultimate artistic ultimatum: your passion or your loved ones. His wife left him and Turrell took the loan. If Turrell gambled his family for one of his pieces, his devotion foreshadows its success.

Finally, to visit this naked eye observatory, as Turrell calls it, one must make a $5,000 donation to the artist’s nonprofit organization. But, with an additional $1,500 one gets a hotel room, dinner, a tour and breakfast; airfare, valet, liquor and other services are not included. It is fair to say the intended audience is limited, promising exclusivity and glamour. Although this may seem like yet another eccentric luxury, the director of the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art described it as “even unfinished, as important as any artwork ever made.” Cost and value often have minuscule correlation and yet this artwork promises an illuminated dialogue with the clouds. Seems like a good investment.

Written by Nicole Chaput