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How to Destroy a James Turrell

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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