Sarasota's Ringling Museum manipulates light with 'skyscape' installation

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and a new feature at Sarasota's John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art looks to shift viewer's perspectives of light with what is known as a Skyspace.

The Skyspace is an installation by artist Jame Turrell, known around the world for his work manipulating light. This Skyspace is a room that seats 56 people with a 24-foot square aperture in the center of the canopy 35 feet above the viewing area, which is surrounded by a central colonnade with 20-foot-high columns. Benches are aligned and the aperture is cut precisely so the sky seems to be a "plane in the sky," according to Turrell. The installation uses LEDs that are synchronized with the changing seasons and different times of the day. At dawn or dusk, changing colors within the space will alter the viewer's perception of the sky. The room includes creeping jasmine and fig to refelct the Florida landscape.

"The Skyspace created by James Turrell is one of the most important acquisitions in the Ringling Museum's history," said Steven High, executive director of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. "It changes all of your notions of the museum experience, placing you in what feels like your own private world. In today's digital age, where we are bombarded with emails, tweets, photos and Facebook messages, James Turrell's Skyspace transports us to a contemplative place where we feel a deepened connection to the very essence of our being and the environment."

The Skyspace concept is born out of Turrell's Roden Crater Project in the Arizona desert. Since 1974, Turrell has been turning an extinct volcano near Flagstaff into a naked-eye observatory. Skyspaces, though, are interior spaces with controlled light to deliver a specific perception, sort of a coup d'oeil. At more than 3,000 square feet, this is the largest Skyspace yet created, the only one in Florida and only one of two on the East Coast.

"It is symbolic that as 2011 comes to a close, the 100-year anniversary of John and Mable purchasing property on what are today the grounds of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, that their museum houses the work of one of the leading artists of the 21st century, to be enjoyed and studied by this and future generations," added High.

The Skyspace is the foundation for the Ringling's Art of Our Time initiative, which reflects the Museum's efforts to promote understanding of and appreciation for the contemporary visual and performing arts by showcasing works from artists, such as James Turrell, that are profoundly influencing our culture.

For information on this and other features at the Ringling Museum, visit Visit or call 941.358.3180.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette