The Sky's the Limit: Joseph's Coat

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The night of the Winter Solstice (December 22, 2011) was a gorgeous one for viewing artist James Turrell's new Skyspace exhibit at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which has just been crowned "Joseph's Coat". A crowd of 1,000 signed up for the big "Solstice Celebration in the Courtyard" party, and were given tickets for timed entry to the 3,000-square-foot celebration of light and sky that's been in the making for over a decade. Members of the "Media" got 15 minutes of exclusive viewing time to meditate in the temple-like structure that is a permanent part of the Searing Wing of the museum, and it was quite an experience.

Sitting on the specially angled, recycled cypress benches in this, the largest Turrell Skyspace, and the only one in Florida, you lean back and stare up at the constantly changing 24 ft. square opening or oculus in the canopy 35 ft. above your head. The Zen-like space around you is made up of columns, each 20 ft. high, with the beginnings of creeping jasmine and fig climbing up to soften the geometry of their bases. Each day (eventually at dawn and dusk), through the use of LED, synchronized with the changing seasons, James Turrell manipulates the viewers' optical responses to the sky as seen through the aperture.  A computerized program of changing colored light--and when nature cooperates--rain, fills the emptiness above you so that the open space sometimes appears solid. A drain around the perimeter of the floor is designed to catch precipitation, and Turrell's design will also play with your experience of light and color when there are raindrops present.

Sometimes the canopy above us was dark blue, then orangey-red. Silently reverent, the 20-or-so viewers around me were rapt as they craned their necks to watch the shifting colors, a panoply of deep black to white. We heard a plane pass overhead, but no birds flew into the aperature. I wonder what would happen if one did! According to our guide, the Ringling's PR person Scott Gardiner, the interplay of colors adapts to the moisture content of the sky. The edges of the oculus are defined as "razor sharp" and John LaCivita of the Skyspace's builder Willis A. Smith Construction, has been interviewed about the enormous pains taken to make the canopy conform to the artist's precise specifications.

Turrell himself was said to be on the Ringling campus that night, but we did not meet him. One of 43 Skyspaces throughout 25 countries, this one is the foundation for the Ringling’s Art of Our Time initiative, and was made possible through donations by Peter and Pam Vogt, Dick and Betty Nimtz, Bev Koski and the late Bob Koski.

View Joseph’s Coat, the Skyspace created by James Turrell daily Monday –Wednesday 10-5, Thursday 10-4, Friday – Sunday 10-5 during normal museum hours. The installation is included with museum general admission.

Although the Skyspace is a special experience at any time, if you want to witness the play of light at sunset visit the Ringling beginning January 5th from Thursday – Sunday for only $5 surcharge.

Sunset Hours
January 5 – March 25, 2012
Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Non-members $5, Ringling Members Free
Capacity limited to 56 per evening.
Advance reservations recommended, call 941.358.3180

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