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How to Destroy a James Turrell

by Samuel Rowlett on June 18, 2013

View into Nasher Garden in Dallas, site of a "destroyed" James Turrell sculpture (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

View of the Nasher Sculpture Center garden in Dallas, site of a “destroyed” James Turrell sculpture (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

NORTH ADAMS, Massachusetts — Everything is bigger in Texas: the roads, the suburbs, the T-bone steaks, the ten-gallon hats, and certainly the sky. The Texas sky seems to go on and on, an uncanny hue of blue, pierced only by the white-hot nexus of the unrelenting sun. Indeed, waxing poetic with reflections of the human gaze upon the heavens is, in some ways, what James Turrell’s work is all about. His Skyspace series in particular gives the viewer a chance at intimacy with a clear view of the celestial canvas.

The Museum Tower, a new luxury condominium, has obstructed the view from Turrell’s “Tending (Blue)” and caused other issues for the Nasher Sculpture Center.

In Dallas, however, Turrell’s vast canvas recently got a little smaller. Enough in fact to actually “destroy” his work “Tending (Blue).”

On a recent trip to the Nasher Sculpture Center I got the inside scoop from my man, well, on the inside. The story goes that the collector Raymond Nasher, who donated the sculpture center, had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, whose real estate investment arm wanted to build a luxury condominium building — Museum Tower — in the heart of Dallas’s arts district. The neighborly agreement they had allegedly worked out was that the Museum Tower structure wouldn’t go above 20 stories, so as to not interfere with the sculpture center’s aesthetic vibe. However, it seems that after Nasher died in 2007 there was a redesign, and the eventual building now stands some 40 stories tall.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to gain access inside “Tending (Blue)” for a peek at the “destroyed” view.  The sign on a sandwich board outside it read:

Because a clear view of the sky from the interior of “Tending (Blue)” is now obstructed by Museum Tower, the artist, James Turrell, has declared the work destroyed.

Destroyed Sandwich Board

A sandwich board indicates the status of the work as declared by the artist.

However, if you go to the Museum Tower website, clearly the folks there think of their building as a “work of art” itself:

Live in a work of art. Your home at Museum Tower will have as much character as you do. Each interior boasts an elegant balance of energy, drama and comfort — serving to transform every sky-bound estate into a canvas for enlightened metropolitan living.

They aren’t half wrong about the building’s aesthetic qualities — it is pretty impressive to look at. Though I would have thought architect Scott Johnson might’ve picked a slightly less reflective fenestration for the exterior. Under the intense Texan sun the building is a blinding sight to see, reflecting and seemingly magnifying the sun’s rays across the arts district with the effect of a prism.

Tending (Blue) Wall Text

The now obsolete wall text for “Tending (Blue)”

And that is also not good for the elegant and diminutive single-story, Renzo Piano–designed Nasher Sculpture Center. Piano conceived the Nasher Center’s glass ceiling with an angled honeycomb grid to only allow indirect north light into the galleries. Today, however, the Museum Tower has risen just north of the Center, towering over it like a giant kid with a magnifying glass. Not only is this reflected light affecting the conditions inside the gallery — works on paper cannot be exhibited under such direct light; they are also “singeing” the poor trees in the Peter Walker–designed sculpture garden.

Mediation efforts between the two parties broke down last year, so it seems like a lawsuit is all but inevitable. However, Museum Tower does have a proposal: altering Renzo Piano’s ceiling’s oculi, and they present their research on a (clearly damage control/PR mode) website they’ve created. You have to hand it to them for hiring a “world class team of engineers, scientists and optical experts” to attempt to fix what they seem to insist is a problem with the Nasher’s design. Moreover, Museum Tower refutes any evidence that the Nasher Sculpture Center garden is in anything less than perfect health.

Not to worry though, at least for the time being — as the sign in front of “Tending (Blue)” notes: “Turrell has created a new design for a skyspace on this site, which will eliminate Museum Tower from the viewer’s line of sight.”

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  • Tony Black

    philistines!

  • RobertWBoyd

    The problem with mirror faced buildings is that while mirrors on the outside help to lower the temperature of the interior and save on air-conditioning (and help buildings achieve LEED status), they do so by heating up the area around the building. Maybe the Nasher garden can survive double sunlight for four hours a day. But when that thing shines down, the garden (and the adjacent sidewalk and street) heat up tremendously. The temperature at sidewalk level was recorded at 130 degrees when getting the full Museum Tower glow.

  • Skip Van Cel

    This is really sad.

  • Mike Snyder

    Really? 130 degrees? Recorded by whom? and under what scientific conditions? The physics and actually scientific observation in the garden disprove that claim. Museum Tower’s skin is composed of flat glass encased a convexed building, curving outward toward the sun. Flat glass does not focus or magnify the sun, and a curved presentation breaks it up into tiny bands.

    Full disclosure here, I did work on the Museum Tower solution project and that is why I know and understand the following;

    According to Dr. Cy Cantrell, the associate dean of academics at UTD and a renowned physics and photonics expert who did a bunch of research for the Los Alamos Laboratories, those bands of light cannot be any more intense that the sunlight source. And, says Dr. Cantrell, since the slim bands of light are always moving, no place in the Nasher garden is reflected upon for more than a few minutes at a time with huge gaps of non-reflection between. Translation, no significant heating possible from a physics perspective. But, how about an actual reading? During three months of research last summer, noted Texas and Colorado horticultural expert Scott Ogden took readings which demonstrated a warm up of 2 or 3 degrees during the reflections, which immediately cooled off as the reflection moved on. Yes, the sun will shine in your eyes if you look up at it, the same is true for hundreds of other buildings downtown and across North Texas, but there is no proof Museum Tower reflections are scorching any plant life in the Nasher Garden. The Nasher can offer up garden design experts all day long to spout their opinion on potential future damage to vegetation in the garden, but there is no proof of that damage, only their opinion. There is scientific evidence to disprove those claims of damage. Just go see the Garden for yourself, I have, repeatedly, the garden is green and robust, what would you expect if you watered 3 times a day. Yes, they do that at the Nasher.

    As for the Turrell, his sculpture dispute has nothing to do with the Museum Tower reflections. Turrell was angry the moment the Tower poked its nose into “his” frame as the building went up. His frame of blue sky was pointed at the airspace above the ground owned by Museum Tower, he had no ownership or right to that airspace, any more than you have a right to the airspace above my house. Imagine a neighbor complaining that you ruined his telescope’s view of the moon because you built a new house next door. Move the damn telescope. You think Terrell might have been rolling the dice, and being a bit arrogant, putting his art in the middle of a growing downtown surrounded by 50 story buildings and across the street from a piece of land where the city’s master plan projected yet another 50 story tower? Is it reasonable to lay claim to the sky above someone else’s property? You suggest only a lawsuit could settle this, you might be right. But the law, I project, would not be on the Nasher’s or Turrell’s side. If a lawsuit would have settled this, don’t you think that would have happened a long time ago?

    • Sir Fart Alot

      Wow! I always thought you were a nice guy on television. Now I think you are an asshole.

      • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

        Please be considerate of other commenters.

      • Mike Snyder

        Interesting how brave people are to take cheap shots at others when they don’t use their real names. You know what they say, if you can’t win an argument on the facts call somebody a name. Real classy.

        • Sir Fart Alot

          Museum Tower wasn’t supposed to be as tall and not use such reflective glass. If they had stuck to their original plan we might not be having this discussion. Regardless you can bark all you want how the media portrays the tower as the enemy. Museum Tower made their own bed. The building is a symbol of greed and arrogance happily reminding us with it’s reflection.

          • Mike Snyder

            Mr. A lot (I will reserve the rest of your doppelganger), your statements about the height and skin on the structure are false. The original Sasaki master plan for the Arts District calls for a 50 story building on the very spot where Museum Tower now stands. I will be glad to share with anyone that master plan or links to it so you can see for yourself. The applications for permits for Museum Tower with all of the architectural proofs of a 42 story tall glass building are on file with City Hall, there was never any “shorter” building proffered by the developers, nor was there any agreement for such. I have proof, do you? In fact I have pictures of the architectural renderings of the 42 story tall Museum Tower inside the Nasher, on display during a fundraiser for the Nasher. The Nasher actually used Museum Tower as a catalyst for a fundraiser when it suited their needs. The Nasher’s director, Jeremy Strict, was at the ground breaking (I have that picture too), participating in front of the billboard with the picture of the 42 story tall building on it. There were numerous city hearings on the applications and architectural review, not one complaint from the Nasher then. You suggest I can bark all I want, I would rather discuss the facts, which you obviously are happy to mis-state and distort or simply lie about. Telling untruths about how all of this came about won’t help solve this situation. Museum Tower is not going to be torn down, like you and others may wish, nor is it likely to get a new skin. Either we start doing things we now know are proven to remove the reflections in the Nasher galleries and restore the visitor experience to the conditions before the Tower was built, or just agree to disagree forever, and that would be unfortunate. Instead of being ugly and slinging pejoratives, it would be nice if you had the intestinal fortitude to identify yourself and discuss this issue honestly. Maybe you have a great idea that could help? Maybe you don’t. But, at least we could have an honest and open discussion about the facts and what has been explored and what has not. I guess that is asking too much of Alot.

          • Sir Fart Alot

            This conversation makes me wonder what being a shill pays these days? Anyway I guess this pdf should be redacted.

            http://www.museumtowerdallas.com/libraries/misc/pdf/pdf-news/Museum_Tower_will_be_a_gem.pdf

            “But the original plan, which called for Museum Tower to be a $100 million, 20-story, fairly perfunctory building, wasn’t what the police and firefighters had in mind. “

          • Mike Snyder

            Only proves my point. There was never a plan filed, never permits asked for, never money raised for a 20 something story building. Everything from the serious stage of development and plans was 42 stories. My wife and I once thought about building a 2500 square foot house, but after putting it on paper, considering our our growing family needs and the acre of land we owned, we finally ended up at 4000 square feet plus. Talk is just that at the beginning of any building project, “I want one story, you want two, I want brick she wants stucco.” Only the plans filed for architectural review and application for building permits are real. From that perspective, there was never anything but a 42 story tall Museum Tower.

          • Sir Fart Alot

            & this comment further proves mine. Arrogance run amok.

          • Mike Snyder

            Far from arrogance, the facts. No one has to believe any spin you or I put on something, let them view the facts, all of them, not just the ones you choose, and then let them judge for themselves. I am comfortable with people who have an honest difference of opinion, in fact I think coming at a situation from two different angles often produces a better product or solution. But to patently discount the facts so you can issue personal attacks like “arrogance,” well, that speaks for itself. As a wise negotiator once told me, “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own set of facts.”

    • MrDB_Cooper

      My personal opinion is that Dallas would be better off with several fewer “Museum” towers (including it and others of its ilk) and more protected space that would help give a mostly soulless city some sense of an aesthetic. But that account there is spot on. My objections are purely subjective. I admit that. I haven’t been persuaded otherwise…but then there’s reality and you’re right, on an objective, legalistic basis you got me dead to rights. I appreciate the reasonableness of your defense of the museum. Thanks.

    • artchemical

      There wouldn’t be a high rise selling condos at $2 million+ a pop located in the arts district if there wasn’t a thriving cultural center. Nasher had a hand in improving the cultural importance of the city as well as the artistic education of it’s citizens. This should warrant a little more respect for his vision. Unfortunately it’s about money and not the art that created the space where monied people want to live.

    • JosephYoung

      negotiating use of airspace is a citizenly thing to do when you live with and next to other human beings. if there is public beach that many people use then it is right to take care not to build in such a way the whole thing would be cast in shadow much of the day. i don’t know the particulars of Museum Tower or Nasher/Turrell, but in general terms, yes, you can lay a degree of claim to the sky above someone else’s property.

      • Mike Snyder

        Joseph, think about what you said. May I impose on the air space over your residence? No, I didn’t think so. We are not talking about a public beach here. The Nasher is not public property, it is not owned by the city of Dallas, it is owned by the Nasher Family and is operated by the Nasher Foundation. Museum Tower is a private residential tower. You cannot seize what is not your’s, that means the airspace above your home. That, my friend, amounts to poaching or theft. I am not trying to be mean here,just pointing out the equation is not as simple as the media in Dallas has made this situation out to be. I know it is difficult to understand when the public has been force fed misinformation by the media who have gotten that misinformation from reporters who have not done their homework and the Nasher surrogates who gladly feed them the misinformation with no evidence to keep this fight going. The whole thing has reached the point of being ridiculous. Museum Tower has offered a valid solution to fix the reflections in the Nasher Gallery, one that is invisible architecturally because it only reconfigures the sunscreen that is already on the Nasher roof, and Museum Tower has offered the money to pay for it, millions. Why not fix that, and then if we want to continue talking about doing something to shunt the reflections in the garden fine. But, let’s get started fixing this situation with something we know the science and engineering studies prove will work.

        • JosephYoung

          that the details and arguments may be more involved than it is made out to be in the media [or that i am privy to] is entirely possible. but i stand by my statement that yes, airspace should be a negotiated space. if i use the airspace above my home in a way that negatively impacts other people then as a conscientious citizen i would want to explore ways to potentially mitigate that impact. maybe those other people only are being selfish themselves and i’ll decide to do nothing or maybe they have a legitimate claim. i also own the groundspace around my home but i won’t–and can’t legally–put a steaming garbage heap on top of it given the impact it has on others. in any case, i hope you the best in sorting all of this out.

          • Mike Snyder

            Joseph, thank you for your thoughtful response. You demonstrate clearly how reasonable people can discuss an issue of controversy and seek common ground and solution. I appreciate your perspective and take your good wishes with me as we continue to seek a solution that all can live with. My best to you sir.

  • c callo

    i thought james turrell cared about ephemeral experience. did he really think the experiences he intended in his outdoor artworks would last forever, unchanged by life’s contingencies? he should just enjoy the publicity and get over it.

  • Fiftyseven

    I’m also bummed out when I see a surveillance camera in a Turrell. Good for him destroying the work.

  • Mildred Fierce

    OK, I am going to let my philistine tendencies show here, but how is/was that an artwork? Simple folk like myself call it a skylight.

    • heyneff

      Visit a Skyspace Mildred, you’ll be surprised. They’re opened for view at specific times and lit such that the sky feels like a painting hung below the level of what is perceived as the ceiling. This is definitely art that has to be experienced first hand as reproductions of any kind are unable to convey this unique effect.

      • Mildred Fierce

        Thanks heyneff. I’ll have to experience it for myself.

  • RompingWillyBilly

    First it was having to play those dreadful Washington R words and now this. Being that Dallas is a combination of the new New York of the south, the new Boston of higher learning, and the new Chicago without all its gang banging violence, I’m sure the city will side with all that artsy fartsy condemning the empty skyscraper and having it demolished forthwith!

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