A Long Island City development project’s scaffolding has slowly crept into the skyspace of James Turrell’s New York installation, “Meeting” (1980–86) at MoMA PS1. Excising an aperture from the museum’s ceiling, the Light and Space pioneer’s project is framed by undulating LEDs that focus viewers on the atmosphere’s shifting color palette from dawn to dusk. It’s likely that the visionary artist’s goal was to have museumgoers meditate on the sky’s aesthetic qualities, and not the Queens’ neighborhood’s shifting skyline.
But thanks to the borough’s rapid gentrification, Turrell must confront new and unforeseen challenges that threaten his work’s purity. Such intrusions weren’t likely on his mind when he started building “Meeting,” according to Craig Adcock, a professor of art history at the University of Iowa who wrote the book James Turrell: The Art of Light and Space.
“It might have been a distant worry,” he tells Gothamist. “Of course, having a high-rise visible there through the ceiling and aperture will ruin it. It won’t work properly if there’s a building with lights up that’s visible.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for MoMA PS1 noted that the currently visible scaffolding will not be visible when the building is complete, mediating fears that the sky pollution is here to stay.
The artist has yet to comment on the unfolding situation at the museum.
Ironically, the skyscraper intruding into Turrell’s workspace belongs to the same luxury development project that bulldozed the much-beloved graffiti citadel 5Pointz in 2014. Located across the street from MoMA PS1 at 22–44 Jackson Avenue, the new building complex began construction in 2015 and is expected to house 1,115 units total (including 223 affordable housing units) when finished. Last year, a federal judge ordered the real estate developer Jerry Wolkoff to pay $6.7 million to artists whose work was lost when he whitewashed 5Pointz’s walls in 2013. (In 2016, the project also suffered a series of protests when Wolkoff reneged on his promise to use union labor at the site.)
This is not the first time one of Turrell’s Skyspace installations suffered from nearby construction projects. As Hyperallergic reported in 2013, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas experienced a similar issue when a luxury condo named the Museum Tower became visible within the artist’s “Tending, (Blue)” (2003). A redesign in 2007 made the tower stand twice as high as originally planned. Turrell declared the work “destroyed,” and created a new design for the space that wouldn’t have the Museum Tower in view. As with finding a solution to the MoMA PS1 issue, those plans have yet to materialize.