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.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

4 replies on “A Forgotten Piece of Santa Fe Sky”

  1. I’m not sure, but there might be more to this story. I showed there when CCA was Plan B (over 10 years ago, I think), and what I was told was that they wanted to raise funds for it’s repair, but that Turrell was actually in favor of its destruction. I don’t know how true that is (or even remember who told me that!), but I find it curious that it has sat fallow for so many years at this point. I’m glad to see someone finally write about it!

    1. Wow, Lauri, that’s really interesting—especially if it’s been in need of repair for 10 years already.

    2. Santa Fe has always been a Mecca for dreamers and romantics with little cash. I suspect the true reason for the neglect and the locked gate is the cost of security. Shame on you CCA.

  2. I worked at CCA in 2009 and it appears I was the last person to have bothered to clean up the skyspace. I oversaw an effort to get the structure looking presentable, which included pulling all the weeds and growth inside the skyspace, as well as broken glass and dog poop, inventoried the bulbs and began to look at suitable replacements, made a request to the ED and the Board to have it rewired, and helped repair the gate and put a lock on it so vandals would no longer leave broke bottles. It has been a local place to “party” since it was built. It is in bad shape, and yes Turrell does not recognize it as one of his major works and advocates its demolition. At the very least, he is not interested in coordinating with CCA on any necessary repairs, or so I was told. That said, CCA had a fairly bad reputation in the community years for mishandling funds. Many artists and donors wont touch that place with a ten foot pole. I am surprised to see it is still open but it seems there is some new leadership there so I wish them and Blue blood all the best. I hope this really does become a priority.

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