No Timeline Yet, Though

A James Turrell “Skyspace” pavilion will land at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Art East
A James Turrell
A James Turrell "Skyspace" pavilion will land at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Seen here: a rendering of the new pavilion, which has a slender form and is located in front of the museum's large rear colonnade. (Courtesy KSK Architects Planners Historians)

A permanent James Turrell pavilion will be coming to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, although critics initially raised questions of its appropriateness, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The City of Philadelphia’s Historical Commission approved the installation of the modern pavilion last month, paving a spot for the artist to build on an iconic rocky outcrop behind the museum. The pavilion is being built with Philadelphia-based KSK Architects and is a part of Turrell’s Skyspace series. Every Skyspace varies, but they all feature a proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling and computerized light installations that are meant to evoke meditation and contemplation.

This new pavilion will be a free-standing structure with an opening in the canopy for a framed view of the sky. A twice-daily show at sunrise and sunset with colored lights will be projected onto the underside of the canopy. There are already two other pavilions on the outcrop, and Turrell’s will be the third—a modern, 21st-century piece. It is being paid for by an anonymous donor and is only the second commission the museum has installed (the first being Sol Lewitt’s garden composition).

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the pavilion was initially denounced as an “alien spaceship” by one Historical Commission member; a National Park Service official also warned that it could ruin the iconic landscape. (The site overlooks the historic Fairmount Water Works.) After several changes, including blending the canopy more into its environment and obscuring the lights, the pavilion gained approval from both commissions.

Despite initial objections, Dan McCoubrey, head of the commission’s Architectural Committee, said that “it’s a very logical place for a pavilion,” as reported in Plan Philly. “It’s a pavilion that’s contemporary in style. We have a rustic pavilion, a neoclassical pavilion, and now a wonderful contemporary pavilion.”

Inga Saffron’s article in the Inquirer pointed out that while the museum did get approval from the Art and Historical Commissions, there was little public engagement process for the pavilion. 

There are more than 80 Skyspace installations across the world, including Turrell’s first Philadelphian one in the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting House. There is no set timeline for the project yet.

Related Stories