James Turrell Skyspace – Seattle, Washington - Atlas Obscura

James Turrell Skyspace

An enclosed rotunda at the Henry Art Gallery in which viewers can look up and see the uninterrupted sky. 


At the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus, you can view something you may assume you’ve seen before, but in reality, may never have. At the installation, James Turrell Skyspace: Light Reign, you can see a piece of uninterrupted sky.

Sitting in the enclosed circular art piece, just a few blocks from the bustling thoroughfare, University Way, it feels like you’re in a quiet sauna or steam room. Except there is no extreme heat. Instead, you’re meant to relax and look upwards through an egg-shaped aperture in the ceiling, through which you can see a slice of pure sky—no buildings and no cranes, which is now a rarity in Seattle’s rapidly changing landscape and skyline.  

The installation, like many of Turrell’s works, plays with light and our perception of it. The university already had a decades-long collaborative relationship with the artist, and worked with Turrell to construct the skyspace in 2003 in the sculpture court within the art museum. The skyspace also includes a movable dome that covers the aperture if it’s snowing or raining. The dome, when covering the opening, glows blue like a pure piece of sky.

From the outside, Light Reign, which is permanently open to the public, looks almost like a giant oval lampshade. Its exterior glows in a slow loop of colors, as if signifying its own sunrise and sunset. A home for regular meditations, silent meetings, and performance art pieces, the Light Reign skyspace has born out its creator’s intention: that sitting with your own bit of sky is sometimes all you really need.

Know Before You Go

Turrell’s work is like a long breath. It’s a piece to take in slowly, calmly. Be prepared to be patient with your thoughts for a little while underneath your own little sliver of sky, just as the artist intended.

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April 24, 2018

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