Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


  • Comment

James Turrell: Skyspace At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, near Wakefield

Earlier this year I reviewed an exhibition of three major light works by James Turrell in the underground gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) (AJ 19.01.06). These will be on display until 3 September and are now complemented by the opening of a permanent 'Skyspace' by Turrell, housed in the remains of a 19th-century deer shelter there.

In 1993 Turrell lived at the YSP for three weeks. It was then that he discovered the shelter and conceived the idea of turning it into a Skyspace.

It originally took the form of a paddock, lined with drystone retaining walls, excavated into a south-facing hillside. At the north end of the enclosure a three-bay brickand-stone arcade provided some additional protection to the deer herd.

The Skyspace is carved from the hill beyond the arcade and its upper part is enclosed within a square drystone wall.

Geometrically and materially, it is of the greatest simplicity.

The chamber is 30 ft square in plan and 20 ft high - Turrell works in imperial units - while the feather-edged opening in the roof is 15 ft square. A highbacked concrete seat runs around the perimeter, above which the walls and soft are painted white. Concealed artificial lighting is set behind the seat, which has embedded heating elements to mitigate some of the rigours of the Yorkshire winter.

From the outside enclosure you approach through a short dark passage leading from the arcade. This serves to disconnect you from the naturalism of the park in preparation for the experience ahead. Once inside the Skyspace you are beguiled and challenged by the complex perceptions of light you encounter. The patch of sky captured by the aperture is ambiguously experienced as both surface and infinite space.

Passing clouds are dramatised by the opening and affect the quantity and quality of light within the chamber.

On my visit at the beginning of May, I watched a parallelogram of projected sunlight slowly track across the white wall during a long, cloudless period. In the stillness of the space it is possible, almost uncannily, to observe the movement of the sun. As the seasons and years pass, the infinite variability of the light will project other patterns and experiences onto the space.

The transitions at dawn and dusk, from night to day and day to night, will be particularly powerful experiences and I understand that the YSP plans openings at these hours.

From now until September there is a rare opportunity to see something of the full scope of Turrell's works in the UK.

This should not be missed.

Thereafter we will have the permanent delight of the Skyspace as it takes its place among the many other pleasures offered by the YSP.

Dean Hawkes is an architect in Cambridge. The YSP's future programme includes a study day on Turrell (with special attention to his Skyspaces) on Saturday 25 November

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.