The University of Texas at Austin
  • Campus & Community

    Step Inside UT’s Newest Masterpiece

    By Tracy Mueller
    Published: Oct. 14, 2013

    James Turrell's The Color Inside Skyspace at UT Austin

    [Credit: Florian Holzherr]

    James Turrell's The Color Inside Skyspace at UT Austin

    Consider the Forty Acres’ newest Landmarks art installation as the antidote to smartphoneitis — that modern affliction causing otherwise engaged human beings to droop their necks down toward the glow of tiny screens, ignoring dinner guests and oncoming traffic.

    In contrast, “The Color Inside” by renowned “sculptor of light” James Turrell propels the viewer’s gaze upward to the heavens, challenging typical perceptions of light, sky and space. No screens allowed.

    The piece, opening Saturday, Oct. 19, is the newest iteration of Turrell’s signature “Skyspace” naked-eye observatories. Designed specifically for the university, it stands on the rooftop of the Student Activity Center (SAC) and was commissioned by Landmarks, the university’s public art program.

    It is difficult to describe, but easy to appreciate in person, even for those who aren’t familiar with contemporary art. (Visit the Skyspace website for hours and free reservations.)

    “The Color Inside” is an elliptical white-plaster tower with an oval opening in the ceiling. A black basalt bench lines the reclining walls, with room for just 25 people.

    At sunrise and sunset custom LED lights unleash brilliant washes of color on the ceiling, morphing slowly between all manner of pinks, purples, whites, greens and yellows. Meanwhile, the sky changes color with the rising or setting of the sun and in comparison to the ceiling. In one sunset sequence, the sky shifts from indigo to gray to rust and then finally a vivid teal set against saturated watermelon LEDs.

    The design of the tower and the intensity of the lights sometimes make it impossible to discern sky from ceiling. All sense of depth seems to disappear.

    It’s a sight that often leaves visitors at a loss for words.

    “I can’t begin to do the experience justice,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, after taking in a sneak preview of the Skyspace. “At one moment you’re seeing clouds, at another you’re looking at a swirling sphere of hues that looked more like Jupiter than anything on Mother Earth.”

    One of the reasons Landmarks director Andrée Bober chose the SAC for the Skyspace’s location was the student body’s request for a “reflection room” for the building.

    “I hope that people find it as a place of refuge, a way to cultivate attention and have a moment of quiet in a busy day,” says Bober, who hopes the piece becomes a new university icon.

    She adds that pieces like “The Color Inside” which Landmarks brings to campus are particularly valuable because they’re educational but also available to the public.

    “It will be a primary resource for visual art students, but it’s not sequestered in the classroom. We’re sharing it with everyone,” Bober says.

    Slideshow of “The Color Inside” light program:

    Lynn Herbert, former senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, discusses Turrell’s work:


    Related Stories:

    Visit the Harry Ransom Center’s James Turrell Display

    Landmarks: Art on the Forty Acres

    • Quote 2
      G E Aguirre said on Nov. 7, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.
      Wow. If I didn't live halfway down the state, I'd go see this. The arts are something universities are about! Hook em!!!!
    • Quote 2
      Tim Prater said on Nov. 7, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.
      Seriously? I see a much broader scope of creation every time I go out and take a walk in the mountains of North Georgia. I see the incredible beauty of God's unique creation in a different way each time I take a walk. It costs nothing other than the time it takes to soak in what He has provided for me to see that particular morning or afternoon. All you have to do is look up and see what He has done. It is so much more beautiful than anything man thinks he can do.
    • Quote 2
      nk said on Nov. 7, 2013 at 9:53 a.m.
      Very interesting although it a real picture it looks like it been Photoshopped in flat design.
    • Quote 2
      Jenny said on Oct. 24, 2013 at 5:12 p.m.
      This is quite amazing! Congrats to UT on another awesome accomplishment.
    • Quote 2
      Hannah Wojciehowski said on Oct. 20, 2013 at 3:14 p.m.
      Everyone needs to go experience this work of art. It's profound. I'm very proud to be a part of a university that understands why this matters. We really are getting world-class around here.
    • Quote 2
      Alex Bedford said on Oct. 20, 2013 at 2:25 p.m.
      Video looks great. I can't wait to see it in person next time I am in town.
    • Quote 2
      utatx said on Oct. 18, 2013 at 11:31 a.m.
      if ut operated on tuition money alone, it would run out within the first few weeks of the semester. it's probably funded by an endowment or a gift to the university. do yourself a favor and go see it instead of complaining about it.
    • Quote 2
      J. said on Oct. 18, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.
      In this age of corporate conquest over these 40 acres, it is refreshing to see an "investment" in a beautiful work. One that promotes "reflection" as well! Who wouldda thunk that intellectual activity would ever be given a worthy and inspiring refuge on this campus in this day and age? Not me! Really wonderful that Harry Ransom Center is holding the torch for the Liberal and Fine Arts. Very sincere thanks.
    • Quote 2
      LC said on Oct. 18, 2013 at 10:37 a.m.
      @Clay: what a myopic viewpoint. The value of art in higher education is huge. Giving students access to these types of meaningful experiences is what makes UT Austin a world class university.
    • Quote 2
      clay said on Oct. 16, 2013 at 3:10 p.m.
      is this what my tuition money being spent on? UT doesn't need to be an art museum, thats what the Blanton. This is a little over the top silly. Campus should look nice, not a theme park.
    • Quote 2
      Robert Lopez said on Oct. 15, 2013 at 11:11 a.m.
      I was fortunate to see a Turrell exhibit over the summer in Houston. What masters of old did with brush and canvas, Turrell does with light and space. The UT community and public should consider themselves lucky that such a work is so readily available to leave them in reverent silence amidst the hustle of modern life.
    • Quote 2
      Rachel L McGruder said on Oct. 15, 2013 at 9:15 a.m.
      What an amazing commission by the University! James Turrell is a truly first-class artist.
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