Each week, Artful spotlights an art experience or destination that speaks to us right now.
James Turrell’s “Skyspaces,” permanent installations that allow visitors to observe and reflect on the changing light and color of the sky through an opening in the ceiling, are welcome additions to any museum. Examples with enduring popularity include Meeting, at MoMA PS1 in New York, and The Way of Color, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. This Memorial Day weekend, a new one, C.A.V.U., is debuting at Mass MoCA in the Berkshires—completing the museum’s long-term retrospective of Turrell’s work, which had not included a Skyspace until now. The title stands for "Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited," and is an acronym used in aviation to note ideal conditions for flying; Turrell is an experienced pilot who has had his license since age 16, and his Skyspaces draw on his perception of different weather conditions while in the air.
Turrell’s idea for a Skyspace at Mass MoCA dates from a visit he made to the site in 1987, years before the opening of the museum, when he noticed the abandoned water tank that had been used to provide fire protection for the mill complex. Working with museum fabricators, the architects Bruner/Cott, and the design-build firm DCG and Daryl Cowie, he restored the cylindrical structure and added an electromechanical roof dome and a ring of concrete benches.
Measuring 40 feet high and 40 feet in diameter, C.A.V.U. is the largest freestanding circular Skyspace and also a rare example with a cover—a feature that allows it to function as two installations in one, with different effects depending on when you visit. In the middle of the day, the cover is shut and the space can be accessed by museumgoers without reservations as a closed environment of artificial light and sound projections. At dawn and dusk on certain days, however, the oculus will be open to allow up to 12 people with timed tickets to contemplate the sky’s transitions. (Tickets are currently booked up, but the museum says that additional capacity and tickets may be added so we recommend continuing to check the website.)
Below, see a rendering of the project as well as images of the site and other Skyspaces.