Air Apparent – A Skyspace Art Installation by James Turrell and Will Bruder in Tempe

By: Taz Loomans

The first sky space I ever saw by artist James Turrell was the permanent exhibit “Knight Rise” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. I was mesmerized. With Turrell’s work, it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at at first. It takes a minute to realize that – oh – that is the sky I’m looking at. When you view a sky space, the sky looks like it’s close enough to touch, throwing off your sense of depth and space. Turrell purposefully confuses his viewers so that they slow down and reconsider what it is they’re looking at, which could be anything from the open sky to a luminescent wall of light artfully set back in a frame.

James Turrell


Turrell is an internationally renown artist, originally from Los Angeles, and now residing in Arizona. For over half a century, he has created works of art that change people’s perception of light and space. Turrell believes that what we see is a reality of our own creation, which is subject to sensory, contextual and cultural limitations. So his art work often tricks people into thinking they are seeing one thing, while in reality they are looking at something completely different, thereby making them aware of their own biases of seeing and observing light.

Sky Spaces


Sky Spaces are chambers with an aperture in the ceiling, where viewers can sit and watch the changing colors of sky. They are particularly compelling during dusk and dawn. To date, there are over 80 Sky Spaces in the world, either privately or publicly commissioned. Each is carefully designed to its particular environment and gives viewers stunning color displays by mixing artificial and natural light. For Turrell, his Sky Spaces serve as experiments where he can refine his notions about light and space.

Air Apparent

Air Apparent is the name of the latest Sky Space installation by Turrell in Arizona. It is located on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University near the intersection of Rural and Terrace Roads. It’s surrounded by a beautiful garden space called the Diane and Bruce Hall Skyspace Garden designed by nationally renown landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck. The Sky Space viewing structure was designed by internationally renown architect Will Bruder. Bruder says of the structure:


“The Skyspace structure is distinctively twisted off the city’s Jeffersonian north/south/east/west grid. Thus the arrival axis of the Skyspace on the latitude and longitude of the ASU campus is on an alignment 11 degrees east of north, i.e. the setting of true magnetic north, the aviator’s north bearing.  

Honoring Turrell’s rigorous concern for proportional perfection, appropriateness of scale, and conceptual simplicity of plan and section, the elegant 9 square compositional layout builds off of the Skyspace’s 45 foot square ceiling plane with its preciously centered 15 foot square open aperture to the sky.  This apparently paper thin plane is actually a quarter inch thick steel plate weighing 48,000 pounds with a hidden framework of structural steel members.  This element is suspended above the perforated scrim walls of the Skyspace by a ‘cat’s cradle’ like system of steel cables tied to the corners of a grand column and beam structure 90 feet on a side by 30 feet in height.” – Will Bruder


Air Apparent Matt Winquist

Air Apparent is a semi-enclosed structure, with walls made of metal mesh. Inside, a polished black granite bench runs the entire perimeter of the space. The structure has a very sophisticated suspended roof structure which is at the heart of the art installation. The “roof” is perforated by a big opening that frames the sky. Visitors can sit on the bench, lean back on the wall and watch the changing light of the sky through this framed opening in the roof.


At the top of the walls a shallow trough contains 480 LED color changing light fixtures each programmed by Turrell to optimize sunrise and sunset viewer experiences of light and color perception.


How to Experience Air Apparent


The best way to experience Air Apparent is to visit it during sunrise or sunset. The lighting on the underside of the suspended ceiling changes continuously throughout the day, and makes for a particularly stunning light show when the sun rises and when the sun sets. The best time to get there is half an hour before sunrise or sunset.


The best way to get to Air Apparent is by Light Rail, as the nearest stop is only a 5 minute walk away. Parking at Arizona State University can be a hassle, especially when school is in session, and it can be pricey. Save yourself the hassle and the money and take the Light Rail instead.

Photo Credit: All photos ©Matt Winquist. All rights reserved.

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