A Forgotten Piece of Santa Fe Sky

James Turrell, "Blueblood"
James Turrell, “Blueblood” (1998; all images courtesy Jason Varone)

Last week, as I was absentmindedly scrolling through my Twitter feed, a tweet from video artist Jason Varone caught my eye:

Looking through Varone’s photos (reproduced here), I became fascinated by the seemingly abandoned skyspace. There’s something poignant about the overgrown grass and weeds inhabiting it — entropy breaking down what would normally be a pristine space, nature asserting itself over one of Turrell’s meticulously designed indoor/outdoor portals. In this space, the floor has become its own view, now mirroring the ceiling, and the walls a kind of oversize, double-ended picture frame.

I wasn’t the only one who found the effect enchanting. “I personally loved the idea of a Turrell that nature has taken back,” Varone wrote to me, “but I might be in the minority on that.”

James Turrell, "Blueblood"

I asked him how he found the work, which is on the grounds of Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA). He explained:

I was in Santa Fe for a week to install my work at the Currents New Media exhibition (which one of your colleagues An Xiao was also involved with [and wrote about].) Currents has work in a few different venues in Santa Fe, and the CCA is one of them. The day after the Currents opening, a local Santa Fe artist drove me to the CCA and pointed it out. As you can see from my photos there is a gate and you can’t get inside so I poked my arm through to get a photo of the sky. The artist who took me there told me that it was recently painted to cover graffiti, although it didn’t look like a fresh paint job.

This was curious. Why was the piece sitting locked and seemingly neglected at the CCA? I contacted John Bienvenu, president of the center’s board of directors, to find out more. As it turns out, the work, titled “Blueblood,” is one of Turrell’s earliest skyspaces, built in 1998. Bienvenu told me that “Blueblood” is currently closed to the public for refurbishment and repairs, and to bring the lighting up to date. He elaborated:

The structure hasn’t deteriorated, but is in need of re-stuccoing (typical in this climate). We would also like to re-wire the lighting around the perimeter opening for LED lights to be consistent with James Turrell’s current approach and specifications, which have changed considerably since the piece was built back in 1988. The interior gravel flooring and exterior landscaping are also in need of refurbishment.

James Turrell, "Blueblood"

He also added that as far as he knew, the piece was never actually open to the public on any regular basis, instead opening only on specific occasions. Hopefully that will change once the refurbishment happens: a Turrell without visitors sitting inside and gazing at the sky seems like the proverbial tree falling in a forest without anyone to hear its sound.

Bienvenu called the renovation “one of CCA’s highest priorities,” although there’s no date set for it yet. They’re aiming to start work this year. In the meantime, visitors to Santa Fe may be able to sneak a peek at an unintended but equally poetic kind of James Turrell, a work in limbo — built by man, partially lost to nature and not yet reclaimed.

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