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The best James Turrell skyspace is the one you can ski to

The artist’s latest light work opened in Lech, Austria, this month.

Over the past few years, James Turrell–long a superstar by art-world standards–has become a genuine household name. “I fuck with Turrell,” Canadian rapper Drake commented, talking about the inspiration behind his 2016 Hotline Bling video. Turrell, for his part, sounded tickled: “This is very interesting because you can think that you have some importance by involvement in the art world, but you know popular culture is so much more,” he told art critic Philip Kennicott at the time. “He honored my work and I was flattered by that. Actually, I’ve enjoyed a lot more attention since he got involved.”

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[Photo: courtesy Lech Zürs]
It seems the 75-year-old artist has continued his practice unfazed–last week, he opened his latest skyspace in the Alpine village of Lech, Austria.

Unlike most of Turrell’s skyspaces, of which there are now roughly 50 around the world (the earliest dates to the 1970s), this latest structure has a movable ceiling. It’s a necessity in a town that can get 90 inches of snow during a typical winter month, and a site that sits at about 6,000 feet above sea level. Designed in collaboration with local engineers and a boat-building company over the past four years, the ceiling is essentially a fiberglass ship hull that keeps water and wind out of the carefully designed aperture during storms.

What happens when the dome is closed? The skyspace becomes one of Turrell’s artificially lit Ganzfeld works–a term borrowed from German, describing the optical phenomenon of losing your depth of field, and even hallucinating, when you look into a uniform field of color or light (Hotline Bling was referencing Turrell’s Ganzfelds).

But when the aperture is open, the new piece is a pure skyspace: A bench-lined subterranean room that peeks through the soil as a granite cylinder with a carefully crafted 12-foot-wide opening framing the sky above the mountains. Visitors access it through a 45-foot-long tunnel, and once they’re inside, they can turn around to see one of the region’s most prominent mountains–the Biberkopf–framed by the tunnel entrance.

[Photo: courtesy Lech Zürs]
Another thing that makes the Lech skyspace unique? While visitors can hike to the entrance–“sturdy shoes” are recommended, and Turrell’s sketches for the design even include a mat for wiping dirty hiking boots–they can also forgo the shoes for boots and ski to the skyspace, which sits near a hiking and ski trail through the area. 

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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