James Turrell | Cheekwood Estate & Gardens
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Blue Pesher is one of James Turrell’s early Skyspaces, a specifically proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling, open to the sky. This type of work, unique to the artist’s practice, can be an autonomous structure or integrated into existing architecture. Their openings can be round, elliptical, square, or rectangular, but it must have an unobstructed view of the sky above. Each Skyspace is distinct and made for a specific client or site. For Cheekwood, Turrell created a circular building tucked into the hillside. The entrance, behind steel doors, gives the work an appearance of an old mineshaft or concrete bunker, betraying little of what awaits inside. After traversing a forty-five-foot-long tunnel, a cylindrical room bounded by high-backed benches is punctuated by an oculus, some ten-feet in diameter above, and a shallow pit filled with black sand below. These two round elements create a striking visual contrast between light and dark and is a defining feature of the work.

The title of Blue Pesher references the Hebrew word “pesher,” meaning interpretation. Skyspaces, with their combination of natural and artificial light, and often some type of seating, offer a space for a profound perceptual experience. His Skyspaces have been described as contemplative, meditative, spiritual, ethereal, and even transcendent. Turrell has compared Skyspaces to the Quaker meetinghouses he attended as child, “where you go inside to greet the light,” but states that they are about “the juncture of the interior space and the space outside by bringing the space of the sky down to the plane of the ceiling.” These works are simultaneously inside and outside, prompting the viewer to contemplate the effects and experience of light in profound ways.

Blue Pesher is best experienced at sunset, when the lighting embedded within its interior begins a 40-minute program of shifting colored light which interacts with and affects the changing light of the sky outside.

James Turrell (American, b. 1943). Blue Pesher, 1997-99. Concrete, LED lights, and mixed media. Museum purchase through funds provided by Ann & Monroe Carell, Jr. 1999.4a.

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