The Unbearable Lightness of Being Kanye

Kanye West donates $10 million to James Turrell's volcanic crater project

The East Portal of Roden Crater (Florian Holzherr/James Turrell Studio files)

Artist James Turrell has been taking advantage of the natural landscape of the Roden Crater in Arizona’s Painted Desert since 1977. The unfettered sight lines and isolated desert landscape are perfect for Turrell’s work, and the artist calls Roden Crater “a controlled environment for the experiencing and contemplation of light.”

Now Turrell’s long-term, still-under-construction arts center has found a celebrity backer; yesterday, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Kanye West had donated $10 million.

Photo of Roden Crater East Tunnel

(Alpha) East Tunnel (EC Krupp/James Turrell Studio files)

Funding for what Turrell hopes will eventually become an arts campus has been sporadic. While several of the spaces have already been built, only $40 million of the required $200 million had been fundraised before Kanye’s commitment. Once complete, Roden Crater will include an amphitheater, additional rooms, and will host a residency program. Inside the two-and-a-half-mile-wide crater, Turrell has carved a network of temple-like rooms and tunnels that are exposed to the sky, creating vantage points that change based on the weather and time of day.

West traveled to Roden Crater on December 11, 2018, and again the next week, tweeting that his tour had been a life-changing experience and that “We all will live in Turrell spaces.” He followed that up with a later visit to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to visit Turrell’s Into the Light exhibition on December 27.

On Monday, the rapper-turned-designer released a statement explaining that he wants Roden Crater to be “experienced and enjoyed for eternity.” The gift stands out among West’s philanthropic work, as he thus far hasn’t made similar contributions to any other artistic institutions. Still, this isn’t the first time that Turrell’s work has infatuated a rapper; Drake danced his way through homages to the artist’s light installations in the 2015 video for Hotline Bling.

Turrell is attempting to fundraise the rest of the $200 million in conjunction with Arizona State University. According to Artforum, that money will go towards keeping the site open for the next five years, and the school hopes to eventually integrate Roden Crater with the curriculum of the “Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, School of Sustainability, School of Earth and Space Exploration, and School of Social Transformation.”

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